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Winter Storm Brings Worries For Isolated Seniors

Fai Mathews, a driver for Meals on Wheels, hugs a client at her home in North Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Liz Jones
Fai Mathews, a driver for Meals on Wheels, hugs a client at her home in North Seattle.

A major wind storm is due to hit the Puget Sound area this evening. Emergency providers are warning residents to brace for possible power outages and to have emergency supplies on hand.

On Thursday morning KUOW reporter Liz Jones rode along with Fai Matthews, a driver for Senior Services' Meals on Wheels in Seattle, as Matthews checked in on many senior citizens ahead of the storm. 

"We deliver a lot of meals but we also deliver stuff from the store, like toilet paper or cheese or milk," said Matthews as she unloaded a package from the back of her delivery van.

“We see these clients once a week," she continued. “And a lot times, we’re the only ones to see them on a regular basis.”

Mathews carried a paper bag loaded with six meals to the doorstep of a longtime client in North Seattle. The front door was left ajar, in anticipation of Mathews' visit.

Helen, 89, called for us to come in. She greeted us in the kitchen in her plush, purple bathrobe.

Mathews has delivered meals to seniors for seven years and knows her clients know her well.

“She’s the best,” said Helen, as Mathews unpacked her meals. Helen declined to use her last name. “She really cares. It takes that because some of these people that you have are shut-ins aren’t they, pretty much?"

Mathews considers it part of her job to make sure the seniors on her route are safe, especially during extreme weather. She warned Helen about the incoming storm, asking her if she has candles, flashlights and people to contact.

Helen assured Matthews that she recently bought some battery operated candles and will be fine.

As the rain pounds the kitchen window, Helen said her main worry is a power outage. She hooks up to an electric nebulizer several times a day to help with her breathing.

Last year, Helen’s power went out three times, so she went to her sister’s place just a few miles away in the University District.

“It was no problem,” Helen said. “But I can’t do that anymore.” Her sister recently died.

Mathews asked who Helen can turn to now. Helen said her grandson recently moved in, and her sons are also a short drive away.

“I have a support system,” Helen told Mathews. “But thank you for worrying about me.”

Mathews said she worries more about other seniors on her route who are more isolated. “They tell us not to get too attached,” Mathews said. “But, please, forget it. You have to care.”

Often, Mathews gives out her personal cell number for emergencies but in this case, thankfully, Helen appears in good hands.

“Get home before the storm,” Helen called out to Mathews as she walked down the front steps, back to her delivery van.

“I will,” Mathews replied. “I promise you that.”

Year started with KUOW: 2006