Life can be unforgiving for those without family and a close circle of friends to watch over them. It gets more difficult as you age, when your own world tends to shrink to the confines of your home, or at the very least to the limited perimeter of your daily walks on legs that are no longer designed for energetic strides. It’s not that aging is a problem in and of itself. The passage of time gives us wisdom, and even though not every septa or octa or nonagenarian welcomes or displays that virtue, the vast majority do. I’ve lived in foreign countries where the elderly are respected and valued, and the contrast with the way we often treat the “greatest generation” here is striking. That might have something to do with the fact that we are a society of “individuals,” and cherish our privacy to an unseemly extent. Yes, it’s good to have personal space and it’s important not to live every moment of your life in public view, but there are things to be said about Italian families where multiple generations used to live under the same roof, or Japanese families where the older you are, the more deeply you are appreciated.
That being said, there are those among us who buck the trend and do show appreciation for and gratitude towards our seniors. One of them is a wonderful group of people that I’ve written about in the past, First Presbyterian Church of Glenolden. A few years ago, I profiled Bob Teta, the founder and animating spirit of the church’s Thanksgiving Ministry. As I observed back in 2014: “Bob told me that it’s not just a church project, even though that’s where the heart of it lies. It’s interfaith and interwoven into all aspects of the community, including volunteers from local hospitals, caterers who provide mashed potatoes and manpower, and congregants who take time out of their own schedules to criss-cross the county – including 33 towns – with goodwill and hot food.” You can read more of that article here:
More recently, I interviewed them on my radio show prior to this year’s program and the podcast can be accessed here:
The ministry is proof that it takes a village not just to raise a child, but also to make sure that the child grows up healthy and that when it reaches its winter years, that former “child” is still wrapped in a caring communal cocoon. And Delaware County has taken notice,
Last week was National Crime Victims Rights Week. As part of the activities, Delaware County Council honored an integral member of the Thanksgiving ministry, Debbie Hadden, along with Bob Teta, Bob Hadden, Gwen Skalish and other volunteers at First Presbyterian who make the ministry possible. One of the reasons that the ministry was singled out for this special honor was the vital connection they have created with senior citizens in the county both through the holiday outreach, and also throughout the year. The church keeps a database of all the families that have requested Thanksgiving meals, and a large percentage of them are senior citizens. I volunteered for a few years with Gwen and her brother David, along with many other friends and members of the church, and saw firsthand how important it was for these seniors to receive a personal visit, a hug, a warm and generous meal and recognition that they were not invisible.
During the award ceremony, mention was made of how Debbie and her team gave dignity to people who often are in the shadows, elderly victims of crime and neglect. The fact that First Presbyterian keeps them on their radar and actively updates their list of addresses, phone numbers and names also helps provide an additional resource to keep the lines of communication open with the elderly.
As mentioned during the award ceremony, “After seniors are victimized, oftentimes when they receive county services, we do not talk with them much after. Debbie and her team allow us to keep in contact with those individuals and most importantly they visit those individuals on Thanksgiving Day. They are able to provide them with meals, and also that social contact.”
That’s the key point: social contact. The meals that the Thanksgiving Ministry provides are important in themselves as nourishment for the body, but the human contact and the obvious efforts to “be our brothers and sisters keepers” is even more substantial nourishment for the soul and spirit.
We should be proud of the work that First Presbyterian of Glenolden has done, and we should honor them for proving that a church is not made of stone and mortar but, rather, of the aspirations and compassion of its members.
Delaware County’s seniors are blessed to have this amazing resource available, as are all of us by extension. For more information about the church and its continuing ministry, please contact First Presbyterian Church of Glenolden at (610) 583-1342.