When Nasir Abdur-Rahim slides behind the wheel of his Toyota Tundra pickup truck to deliver food to those who might otherwise go hungry, his mother is with him in spirit.
“She did a lot in our neighborhood, taking care of people,” he says, recalling how his mom often called on her son to help her with physical tasks for others that she couldn’t manage. “When she died, she was peaceful, with a smile on her face. I thought, whatever got her there, that’s the way I want to be.”
Abdur-Rahim has driven for Meals on Wheels, a program of Feed More, for nearly a decade. He started in 2011 but took a break from 2015 to 2018, his first three years in retirement. When he returned in 2018, he made deliveries twice a month, then increased to weekly service during the pandemic, a schedule he maintains. His is one of the nonprofit’s 109 routes that cover 10 counties and five cities in Central Virginia. In 2021 alone, Meals on Wheels volunteers delivered 309,770 dinners to more than 1,700 recipients.
In addition to providing food, the program connects people who are unable to leave their homes — whether because of ongoing or temporary health issues — with others who can offer all manner of aid.
“There have been instances where people have fallen and need help,” says Jessica Howe Hickey, Feed More content editor. If a recipient who is expected to be home doesn’t answer their door, volunteers are instructed to call the central office, which will attempt to contact the recipient by telephone. “We call those safety and security checks,” Hickey says.
Abdur-Rahim uses a special knock to alert residents when he arrives. On a recent delivery day, he was clearly expected. One client, sitting near an open door, welcomed him by asking, “What happened? You’re late.” Another client greeted Abdur-Rahim with a bottle of lemon juice in hand, asking for help in opening it.
“On my way here, I ask my creator to put me in the best space to serve,” Abdur-Rahim says. “I give my smile, my warmth. I come with an all-around personality to meet people where they are. I try not to get too personal, but I do want to establish a relationship with the client.”
Jonathan Burton is a client who clearly relishes his time with Abdur-Rahim, throwing his apartment door wide and proclaiming, “My main man!” upon hearing the driver’s voice. Burton, a professional musician who relocated to Richmond from North Carolina in November 2020, lost his vision in 2017. He signed up for Meals on Wheels after someone he hired to purchase groceries stole his credit card.
“I feel comfortable with Nasir because he’s good to me,” Burton says, noting that Abdur-Rahim helped him arrange his musical equipment — keyboards, guitars, mixers — so he can work on his own. “I’m disabled but not unabled,” Burton adds, handing over a copy of his latest CD release, “Me, Myself, My Guitar & I.”
On this visit, Abdur-Rahim assists Burton with a cell phone glitch; on other occasions, he’s helped address envelopes. Abdur-Rahim doesn’t mind the extra time. When he noticed another client’s door lock was broken, Abdur-Rahim reached out to a friend who makes home repairs and arranged for a replacement; the friend donated his services.
A former IT manager, Abdur-Rahim brings a methodological approach to his volunteer duties. At Feed More’s South Richmond distribution site, before he heads out, Abdur-Rahim checks to ensure each client package has the correct meal and label; he then organizes the meal bags in his cooler in order of drop-off. He says he usually completes his duties in less than an hour, depending on the amount of conversation and assistance he engages in along the way.
The Meals on Wheels routes are designed to be completed in 60-90 minutes, Hickey says, and volunteers can use a mobile app with GPS to guide them, if they wish. During the pandemic, volunteers delivered a week’s worth of frozen meals in a single run, to minimize contact and prevent spreading illness. But the service has returned to daily deliveries, which is the best way to provide clients with fresh food and interaction with others.
Menus are crafted by a nutritionist, taking into account more than a dozen different diet types, including heart-healthy, diabetic-compliant or vegetarian. Perhaps unsurprisingly, comfort food — such as macaroni and cheese, meat loaf, lasagna, and chicken pot pie — are perennial favorites. Feedback on new recipes is swift, Hickey says. “[Clients] are very specific and not afraid to tell us what they like,” she says.
The goal, Hickey and Abdur-Rahim agree, is to provide sustenance to those who can’t shop or cook for themselves. Now that daily meal deliveries have resumed, Meals on Wheels is looking for more volunteers to step in and help. Drivers must be 18 years old, provide their own vehicle and pass a general background check.
It’s a commitment, Abdur-Rahim says, but one that yields many benefits.
“What [my clients] give me, I give them,” Abdur-Rahim says. “I know my mom is happy.”
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