Service Opportunties for Seniors Meals on Wheels helps seniors stay in their homes by delivering meals and other services
By ALEX SIMON | Bay Area News Group
SAN LEANDRO — Majorie Ritchie is 98 years old and perfectly willing to share the secret to her longevity.
“I am so attached to this house — that’s the reason I’m still here,” Ritchie said. “I don’t want to leave it.”
The house, in the Fremont Terrace neighborhood of San Leandro, has been her home for 75 years. But Ritchie isn’t shy about admitting that her advanced years have added difficulties to still be able to stay there. She stopped driving around 2010 and she hasn’t been able to cook for about five years.
It was then that Service Opportunities for Seniors Meals on Wheels (SOSMOW) stepped in.
“I don’t know what I’d do without Meals on Wheels,” Ritchie said.
Service Opportunities for Seniors Meals on Wheels started in 1966 in Hayward and has expanded north over the years to serve San Lorenzo, Castro Valley, San Leandro and Oakland. Whatever the place, the objective remains the same.
“The overarching mission is to keep people in the homes that they enjoy for as long and as safely as possible,” said Dan Ashbrook, the nonprofit’s development director.
It was in 1947, two years after World War II, that Ritchie found her dream house. It was just a plot of land then, the only three-bedroom in the neighborhood. Wheeling and dealing with both the developer and the homebuilder, she bought the whole works… for $9,500.
Then she went to the lot and stood in what would be her living room for the next 75 years and counting. She has added to the initial structure, but that space remains the same.
“My whole life is this house. It means so much to me,” Ritchie said. “Everything in this house is my creation, and I’m very proud of it.”
Ritchie said she gets around 15 meals a month from Meals on Wheels, all delivered directly to her door. But since the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for meal deliveries to fellow seniors has exploded, and the organization has struggled to keep up.
Ashbrook remembers being warned on Friday, March 13, 2020, about the lockdown that was about to come — and the added reliance so many would have on SOSMOW.
“That next week, our phone lines doubled,” Ashbrook said. “The phone lines just went off the hook.”
The nonprofit organization served more than 550,000 meals last year, up from 350,000 meals two years ago — its client list growing from just under 2,000 to more than 3,000. At the same time, the organization is dealing with the staffing and supply-chain problems so many other businesses are facing.
There have even been days when some orders cannot be filled. Ashbook said those are the worst calls he and his staff have to make,
Through the East Bay Times’ annual Share the Spirit campaign, which highlights nonprofit organizations serving the most vulnerable in our communities, SOSMOW is hoping to raise $15,500 to help prepare and deliver special holiday meals to 1,500 to 1,700 homebound older adults who are isolated and unable to be with family or friends on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or other cultural holiday celebrations.
Ritchie used to take her kids to the Fairmont Terrace Park just down the street from her home and loved it so much that, when the park underwent a significant renovation, she donated enough to have a plaque placed on a bench.
Ritchie knows she’s getting up there in years, so she was grateful for the chance to be a part of this brand-new park and participate in the ribbon-cutting ceremony when the park reopened recently.
“I want to leave a legacy,” Ritchie said. “I don’t want to be gone. I want someone to remember me.”
On the plaque she donated are the words: “Linger awhile with me; through your thoughts, I will be.”
How to Help