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Almost every week for the past three years, Anne, age 72, and Becky, her Friendly Visitor volunteer, go for a walk. The two stroll through the leafy streets of the Haight Ashbury neighborhood, stopping along the way to admire and identify trees and flowers.
On this particular Thursday, as they meander toward Safeway, Anne, a retired typist, quizzes Becky. The 36 year old correctly identifies the Birds of Paradise planted in front of a Victorian home but needs some hints to recall the name of a Bailey’s Acacia. Anne playfully scolds here student. “I usually get at least two out of 10 right,” says Becky, smiling.
Anne, who has lived in her one-bedroom apartment for 25 years, began receiving services from Meals On Wheels of San Francisco (MOWSF) in 2011. She had suffered a bad fall while walking on Haight Street and broken her arm. Normally very independent, Anne’s new mobility issues forced a lot of big changes in her life. Anne had to start using a walker to get around and couldn’t manage simple errands on her own.
She also had to quit her volunteer work at the Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park, where she’d been serving as a docent for 25 years. “Every weekend I would give tours,” says Anne, who has a golden spade award from the Arboretum hanging proudly on her wall. “My favorite part was taking the kids around. I also loved all the little old ladies.”
Having Becky as a volunteer means that Anne can reliably get groceries, including her prized Nutella, and other supplies like coffee and toilet paper. “She’s so good. She remembers what I like and she’s never pushy,” says Anne. “She lets me take my time.”
But these walks have also come to mean more than getting errands done. “I was sitting around too much after the fall,” says Anne, whose doctor had been concerned about her lack of exercise. “Walking with Becky has been really good for me. Plus she’s more than a volunteer now. She’s a buddy.”
Becky, who works at a hair salon, has introduced Anne to her family, including her sister and niece, who live in San Francisco, and her parents, who visit from Southern Indiana. Becky and Anne’s usual route involves stopping at a café on the way home from the store, where they sit, chat and laugh. But sometimes they tackle other tasks, like going to a laundromat to do Anne’s washing.
“When I first signed up to volunteer, I thought I would just help a senior shop for groceries every other week,” says Becky. “But it’s turned into so much more.” Anne smiles and agrees. “I liked Becky from the start, and I knew I wasn’t going to let