A meal delivered by a smiling child could melt even the coldest winter blues for homebound Upper Arlington residents, as Windermere Elementary School students take over an entire neighborhood Meals on Wheels route.
Kindergarten student Ivy Rex said, "I like to make older people happy and feed them.
"My heart just feels really happy inside when I give food to older people," she said. "They are happy to see me and sometimes Mrs. Taylor gives me candy."
Mrs. Taylor's house is one of eight places that Windermere students and their parents deliver meals to each weekday, said Ivy's mother, Stori Rex.
"I wanted to involve my children in something where they could physically see us helping people," Rex said. "My kids and I started delivering meals and it was such a great experience that I wanted to share it with our school."
She pitched the idea to Principal Julie Nolan and local LifeCare Alliance volunteer Pauli Tice, then sent an email letter to parents.
Nolan said she was "elated" at the idea, since service learning is an integral part of the school's curriculum.
"When we model for our children the importance of giving back, we teach them valuable, lifelong lessons as parents and educators," she said. "We started the year at Windermere with a theme of walking a mile in someone else's shoes.
"The gift of empathy can be taught and what a win-win for our entire community," she said. "Our acts of giving make a difference not only to others but to each of us, as well."
Each spring the school participates in a 5K Wish Run, with proceeds going to various charities. Fifth-graders also recently researched the homeless population in Columbus, creating items to sell to raise money for a homeless shelter.
Tice said many schools have been involved in Meals on Wheels deliveries, but this is the first school to take over an entire route.
"They are covering all deliveries Monday through Friday and Mrs. Rex even has parents lined up to deliver through the summer and indefinitely," Tice said.
Rex said 25 Windermere families volunteered to deliver meals, which are made during the school's lunch hour, from 11 a.m. to 12:05 p.m.
While the idea went over big with parents, some of the kids were a little shy.
"My kids were skeptical and quite nervous to knock on a stranger's door at first, but by the end of our first route together, they were running for the doors," Rex said.
Her second-grader, Lakin, said, "I like that you get to see grandparents and they are all super nice."
Many of the Meals on Wheels clients stand at their doors with their jackets on, eagerly waiting to see the children, Rex said.
"It's difficult to put into words the beauty of seeing the magic that happens when the kids hand over their meals and look them straight in the eye with a smile," she said. "A lady said to my daughter and her friend during a recent delivery, 'Do you know what you two are? You are God's angels come to help me.'
"With tears in her eyes, she told me that I had no idea how much seeing those kids means to her," Rex said.
Parent Shelly Casey said at every house, "We are met with a hearty hello, a big smile and a heartfelt thank you.
"It creates a connection that means so much," she said. "Looking forward to seeing the people you deliver to each time creates a lasting and continual sense of giving."
Her first grader, Cal, said, "I feel good when I know they have something to eat and it makes them happy."
The school started its route Feb. 3 and volunteers plan to keep delivering year after year, Rex said.
Other parents involved in the project include Crisi Acker, Bill Balderaz, Jennifer Boothby, Amy Colgan, Brad Conway, Deb Culp, Tanya DeCapua, Debbie Gaupp, Jen Geistfeld, Kay Hoppers, Alicia Kern, Krissy Malatesta, Elizabeth Mangas, Carolyn Markworth, Chrissy McNair, Dayle Radlinski, Karin Richard, Webster Schooley, Traci Stillwagon, Kristi Stummer, Kathy Utgard, Lynda Weaver, A. J. Wildman, Katie Yahn, and Mark and Becky Yoder.
To learn more about Meals on Wheels, visit lifecarealliance.org or call 614-444-MEAL.