While Lesley Wells enjoys cooking, toiling for long hours in a kitchen to create hundreds of meals a week is not what she expected to be a pastime in her retirement years.
Turns out, however, she’s having the time of her life with her latest cooking endeavour that came to fruition last summer – with the onset of COVID and an influx of people in her community experiencing food insecurities.
“I’ve always loved cooking and entertaining. It’s nice to put that to work, not only to feed people I know and love, but to help people who need it in our community,” said the 68-year-old Langley City woman who is leading a new meal program offered in conjunction with the Langley Meals on Wheels and Langley Sources Food Bank.
From accounting and sales to quality assurance, Wells did all that and more during her career.
But when she found herself retiring back in her hometown of Langley, and started casting about for something fulfilling to do with her spare time, she gave serious thought to what that might look like.
She knew she was soon to be a senior, herself, and knowing she wanted to do something meaningful, she sought to help serve the senior in her own community. She quickly narrowed in on the Langley Meals on Wheels, describing her initial duties as a volunteer driver as a great fit.
“Often seniors lack the support they need to remain in their own homes and feel part of the community,” Wells said.
“I took it very seriously, volunteering with Meals on Wheels, because I think it’s so important what they do,” she added, appreciating that the drivers do so much more than just put a nutritious meal in front of shut-ins, but provide (for many) their only social contact in a day.
Wells started by delivering meals for the non-profit organization, and later took on added office duties before joining the Meals on Wheels board of directors for a term. Now, however, she jokes that she’s been relegated to the kitchen since this new program started in July.
The Community Kitchen program takes the Meals on Wheels efforts a step further, Wells explained.
Meals on Wheels works with the Salvation Army’s Gateway of Hope kitchen team to create and distributed about 120 hot meals a day around Langley. In fact, Wells delivered those meals for the better part of a decade – until this new initiative came up and Meals on Wheels executive director Shannon Woykin sought someone to spearhead the undertaking.
That ended up being Wells, and to say the pilot project is consuming much of her time is an understatement, she chuckled.
The program takes fresh food from Sources’ food recovery initiative and sees Wells and a team of three other volunteers make nutritious frozen meals.
“So far, the quality of food has been excellent and the meals we’ve been able to make have surpassed our expectation,” said Woykin, who’s anxious to augment the services for existing clients, as well as anyone else in need in Langley.
Wells elaborated, saying the frozen meals are for people of all ages, from school-aged kids going to class without enough to eat, to rehomed homeless people, to seniors needing a little extra help taking care of their nutritional needs.
Using the items from the food recovery program run by Sources, the foursome went from preparing 40 meals a week since the project’s inception last summer to creating 150-plus. Wells only sees the demand growing as COVID-19 continues to be such a huge part of everyone’s live.
She and her team work two days a week (Mondays and Wednesdays), about four to five hours per shift, in a small church kitchen. Since the space doesn’t allow the team to get any bigger per shift, Wells is looking to add a third shift on another day, and encourages those like-minded individuals willing to help out to contact her via email email@example.com.
“By expanding, we could make more meals and feed more people,” she said. “I don’t think a lot of people realized how critical it has become for a lot of people” as a direct result of COVID, including for many who have lost their jobs and are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.
Knowing how much she’s helping all those people, Wells said she loves what she’s doing, loves volunteering, and loves making a difference in the lives of so many.
“There’s people who will, and people who won’t,” she said. “I want to be a person who does… and, it’s addicting…”
She describes her volunteer endeavours as a selfish act on her part. She could spend her time reading books, travelling the country (maybe not so much during COVID), or dedicate hours a week to sewing garments for her granddaughter.
But she’d rather volunteer.
“It’s the most rewarding work I’ve ever done,” Wells concluded, saying for the foreseeable future she sees herself continuing to cook for the community kitchen program. “I think I benefit as much as I give, probably more… I love it, and I think more people should try it.”
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