Delivering food for the body, music for the soul

Quartet entertains Senor Services lunch site participants at Sprague Street Recreation Center.

Delivering food for the body, music for the soul
December 26
00:15 2019

Meals-on-Wheels volunteers provide much more than a meal. Each delivery provides a moment of human connection that many recipients cherish more than the meal itself. 

In 2017, Grace Pfleger began volunteering with the Meals-on-Wheels program during her first year of college at UNC School of the Arts (UNCSA) and took things a step further when she decided to deliver music as well! As she prepared to end her first semester, Grace took a few moments to reflect on her experience of volunteering with Meals-on-Wheels. “I’ve always had a passion for working with the elderly, so I was looking for ways to get connected with the aging population in Forsyth County.” 

Rebecca Nussbaum, director of Career Development & Community Engagement at UNC School of the Arts, runs the ArtistCorps Program, which utilizes the skills of UNCSA students and graduates to provide arts instruction, integration and exposure to school-aged children and seniors in the Winston-Salem community. After connecting Grace with Melissa Smith, the director of Innovation and Initiatives at Senior Services, together they found a great fit for Grace with Meals-on-Wheels. For the first two years of the initiative, every Wednesday morning, Grace would wake up at 7:30 a.m. and head over to Senior Services, where she would meet up with other volunteers in the Meals-on-Wheels pick-up room. Together, they drove out to an apartment complex to deliver meals. Grace, with her portable boom box, put the training she’s receiving at the School of the Arts to good use. She sang a song for each recipient, choosing from a variety of music each week, from Michael Jackson to classical opera. She was a hit—the seniors on her route couldn’t get enough of Grace’s voice!

For Grace, this opportunity was “an answer to a calling.” Since the beginning of her time at UNCSA, she says she has been looking for a way to combine her two loves for music and helping elders. Music, she says, is so much more than just entertainment; it’s a healing art. Likewise, she wanted to do more than just perform. “Doing this just makes my life. I feel like I have a lot of purpose, something to wake up to every morning.”  

Inspired by the success of her first two years volunteering through ArtistCorps, Grace and Rebecca met with Melissa at the beginning of her junior year and wanted to “branch out” to more seniors. They decided the Senior Lunch Site at the Sprague Street Recreation Center, in the same vicinity of UNCSA, would be the perfect fit and Grace offered to get more students and teachers involved. After surveying the participants about their interests, artistic abilities, favorite music, food, etc., Grace, fellow students and a dance professor kicked off their initial visit in November with a Gospel song and then conducted a ballroom dancing class!  The participants were delighted with their new dance partners. 

For their December program, Grace rounded up fellow students Carson Weddle, Keegan Welford, and Angelina Bassi for a Holiday Quartet concert. Featuring traditional Christmas classics, hymns, and a sing-along, the participants were overjoyed with the performance and many blown away by the beauty of their voices harmonizing together, while telling stories about what their favorite thing about Christmas is. 

After the concert, we interviewed the students and asked them why they decided to do this performance. Carson told us that, “I’ve never really done service in the past because I really didn’t have much growing up. So, my family couldn’t really give back. Now that I’m in college, on my own, and life is more stable, I thought it would be nice to finally give back and make someone’s Christmas a little better.”  

The senior participants felt that he did just that. In fact, Andrew, one of the loudest singers in the audience, told us, “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a concert like that and they did a great job.”  Effie, age 83 and one of the most animated seniors in the crowd said, “I knew all the songs and they had goodness in their alto, tenor and soprano.  I love young people.  They reminded me of me when I was younger.”  

A week later Grace and company took their quartet to Senior Services’ Williams Adult Day Center and brought joy to the participants and staff there, as well.

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