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Tracey Cross, Wilder Meals on Wheels volunteer
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Meals on Wheels helps Wilder volunteer Tracey Cross stay involved during the pandemic

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For many, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant stepping back to stay safe. For Tracey Cross, Wilder’s Meals on Wheels program provided the perfect opportunity to step out—and step up. "It gave me purpose,” Tracey says, calling volunteering “a reason to get outside and do something for others.”

Tracey came to appreciate her Monday mornings with Meals on Wheels. In the midst of the pandemic, she delivered food to Saint Paul residents who are older, have difficulty cooking and preparing meals, or are home due to health conditions, disabilities or limited mobility. Thanks to Tracey and a host of other dedicated volunteers, Wilder’s Meals on Wheels program has been able to provide crucial help during a pandemic that has kept many community members in their homes to protect themselves and their community.

 “I really like to gush about them, especially this year,” says Christine Miller, Wilder’s Meals on Wheels coordinator. “Tracey, in particular, is such a beam of light.”

Volunteering helps Tracey grow closer to community and family

Tracey was eager to get involved, but she recalls some trepidation on her first day. She wondered whether wearing a mask would make it harder to connect with Meals on Wheels recipients. She asked herself whether meal recipients would be able to see the smile on her face when she greeted them.  

Tracey found that she could not only connect with recipients, but also that those connections would become one of the greatest joys of her volunteering experience. “You get to know them a little bit,” Tracey says, citing specific conversations with recipients, such as “whether they saw the red cardinal in the morning, how their plant is growing, or whether they have enough milk.” Over time, Tracey’s nervousness faded away. She found herself becoming comfortable and relaxed on her route, and unlike most people, she could even say “I always look forward to Monday mornings!”

Though volunteering helped Tracey forge relationships with Meals on Wheels recipients, it also brought her closer to her daughter, who was able to join her mom on some deliveries. “She wanted to help others with me,” Tracey says. “A bonus was she got one-on-one time with Mom!”  

Tracey says sharing time with the community is a new priority

Looking back on her initial jitters, Tracey now sees only possibilities. “Through volunteering with Meals on Wheels, I’ve learned that sharing my time isn’t as challenging as I once thought,” she says.  “It’s not hard to set aside an hour a week, get some fresh air, and connect with people in my community.”

When Tracey returned to in-person work at her school, she made sure to push for time to continue delivering meals. The school agreed— which is a benefit for Wilder because Tracy has a big impact on the program.

Volunteering has now become an integral part of Tracey’s routine. “Connecting with the clients each week is the reason I continue to show up,” says Tracey. “Delivering meals is a priority in my life now. I can’t believe I waited so long.”