Volunteer Corner: One small gesture can means everything

Patty and Shel Zatkin load up their vehicle with freshly made meals they will deliver to Pima County residents in need.

Legendary motivational author Napoleon Hill once wrote, “If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.”

Mobile Meals of Southern Arizona’s volunteers do just that with grace and compassion, providing much more than a freshly made meal to Pima County residents often cut off from the rest of us.

“Our volunteers are also the eyes and ears of the community,” said Mobile Meals Interim Executive Director Jennifer Tersigni. “It’s like a wellness check.”

“We interact with those who are often lonely, who miss us when we’re not there,” volunteer Patty Zatkin explained. “A couple of minutes is worth an hour to them. You just have to be patient and kind.”

Her husband, Shel, agrees. “Our most valuable asset is giving our time,” he said.

They couple have volunteered for Mobile Meals for several years and find the experience fulfilling. Even though it’s a simple task to ring the doorbell and drop off a tray of food once a week, looking out for and listening to someone all alone can be a priceless gift.

Like many volunteers in this community, the Zatkins are busy but find the time to give back. Shel is a volunteer assistant varsity basketball coach in Sahuarita and serves on the Pima County Criminal Justice Board to help juvenile offenders get back on track with their lives. He’s president of the Quail Creek Men’s Golf Association, serves on the Pima County Recreation Commission, and works with the Kino Border Initiative.

Patty is instrumental in securing scholarship money for underserved women through the Quail Creek Women’s service group and raises money for junior golf programs.

Retired teachers from San Francisco, both have a history of service on school boards, food delivery programs for the poor, programs for kids and the disabled, and they are active at Quail Creek, encouraging residents to get involved in a variety of activities.

“I sort of feel guilty if I’m not doing something for someone,” Shel said.

“It’s so easy to set aside a little time,” Patty added, “and it’s so rewarding.”

Mobile Meals of Southern Arizona is celebrating its 50th year of service, and is the only meal delivery nonprofit to provide hot, freshly prepared — never frozen — meals that are medically tailor-made for the dietary needs of mostly elderly and disabled homebound clients. About 350 trained volunteers deliver nearly 100,000 meals per year. They also provide free incontinence supplies, plus food for pets.

Clients generally pay a percentage of the cost each week according to their financial capabilities. Nine medical facilities in the area prepare the meals — La Posada donates theirs — and volunteers deliver them in warming trays Monday through Friday. Mobile Meals picks up a few grants, but 90 percent of funding comes from donations.

“We’re very reliant on volunteers and donations to keep doing what we do,” Tersigni said.

Mobile Meals hope to expand services into the Sahuarita/Green Valley area this year, she noted, as there is a waiting list.

“I think if there were more volunteers, more people could get into the program,” Shel explained.

Little things mean a lot, as the cliché goes, but there really is no simpler yet more important way for anyone, a winter visitor or a year-round resident, to put in just a couple hours one day a week and still have a huge impact on someone’s life.

“Once someone takes that first step,” Shel said, “then they can see how valuable it is to them and to the community.”

Contact the Green Valley-Sahuarita Volunteer Clearinghouse at its website: gvsvolunteering.org