Damaris Pena cooks a homemade meal for a senior couple once a week, but her visits are not about the food.
What’s more important is the time she spends playing dominoes and conversing. We named Damaris the Volunteer of the Month for February because of her thoughtfulness and how she listened for the best way to serve her senior friends.
“She has gone above and beyond in getting to know them and growing wonderful friendships,” said Heart2Heart Volunteer Coordinator Antonella Salerno.
Before she retired, Damaris used to work with the daughter of the couple. She heard the daughter explain how her parents needed help and suggested Heart2Heart. Damaris had just started volunteering, and offered to deliver the Food for Hope meals herself.
The daughter of the couple lives close by. She takes her parents to appointments and visits. However, she works full time, and she doesn’t come over as much as she would like.
“I actually know what that is like, because I did it,” Damaris said.
To honor her mother
Damaris’ mother lived with her for 17 years. Damaris decided to retire last June, partly so that she had more time with her.
“She died exactly a month before I retired,” Damaris said. “I was retiring so I could take care of her.”
Damaris learned about Heart2Heart through an event at her church, Hollywood Community Church.
“I’ve always felt a connection with older people since I was a teenager,” she said.
Between retirement, the natural connection with seniors and wanting to honor her mom, Damaris knew she had to volunteer.
“One of the problems that I see with the older people is that they’re very lonely,” Damaris said. “They need attention. Unfortunately, in our society, once the elderly no longer produce, they get neglected sometimes, even by their own family members.”
Food for the soul
When Damaris first started delivering Food for Hope meals to her senior friends, she would also make them a big meal. The pot of soup or pasta dish could be eaten throughout the week.
However, she discovered that the couple weren’t eating everything before it had to be thrown away. They just didn’t eat very much from day to day.
Now Damaris makes a delicious meal based on what the couple wants to eat for that day only. Most of the time, she cooks with the ingredients they already have on hand. Occasionally, she picks up extra items from the supermarket.
She spends two to three hours each week with her friends. Damaris thinks her most important role is providing company and conversation.
“I honestly don’t think they like to eat too much,” she said. “They really enjoy the time you spend with them.”
Damaris worked as a business insurance account manager for a big agency before she retired from corporate America. She didn’t feel like her job made a big difference in people’s lives.
“That’s how I took it. In my volunteer time, I wanted to do something to make a difference,” she said. “I just wanted to give back a little bit.”