It’s not often I write about someone in my own family. As the editor of a newspaper, I have to be judicious about how I use space in the paper — and about 98 percent of the time, I leave my family out of it.
But today is different. My grandmother Kitty Sutton, a Felton resident, was recognized by Second Harvest Food Bank as one of two 2013 Hunger Fighters of the Year.
At 93 years old, Kitty — I call her Baba, short for “babushka,” which is Polish for woman or grandma — is a remarkable person.
Four days a week, she gets up and meticulously dresses herself for work, almost always looking more elegant than everyone she meets. She drives from her home in Felton to the Meals on Wheels headquarters in Live Oak to pick up 10 to 20 meals for homebound residents who cannot cook for themselves. She then drives to homes all around Santa Cruz, delivering a meal and good cheer at each stop.
She’s been doing the same thing for 26 years.
In the past several years, she’s slowed a bit. She was delivering five days a week until her mid-80s, when she stopped delivering on Mondays so she would have time to play bridge at the Scotts Valley Senior Center. And now, in the evening, no one in my family calls after 8 p.m., because she’s probably in bed.
But every day, we know that she will be on her route, delivering food and a few words of hope.
How do we know she’s always working? Well, aside from the fact that she hates to miss a day, she’s accumulated more than 390 hours of sick pay while clocking less than 10 hours of work each week. Do the math on that one.
Before I had a day job, I would sometimes go with Baba on her route. I was always nervous to go into others’ homes — often dark and sometimes smelly — to deliver a meal. But she does it with a smile on her face. She has delivered meals to disabled veterans, those with lifelong diseases and others who are simply recovering from surgery.
Some of the stories she tells are hilarious. Once, as she tells it, a man with dementia went to the door wearing nothing but a half-buttoned dress shirt.
Other stories are heart-wrenching.
Several months ago, Baba walked into a home that was very cold. She called out and didn’t hear the person she was delivering to, so she stepped inside and found the person on the floor, barely responsive and unable to move.
Shaken, Baba, who stands less than 5 feet tall, knew not to call 911; the last time she did so, the man’s family did not want to pay for the ambulance, because he had simply fallen and was unable to get up, and they did not think it warranted an emergency.
This time, Baba called the Meals on Wheels office, which contacted the children of the resident. They eventually arrived to care for the person. It’s possible that if Baba had not delivered that meal, he would have died of cold, hunger or illness.
These are extreme examples of things that happen on her Meals on Wheels route. However, day in and day out, Baba holds lonely people’s hands, offers them a smile and a few words of encouragement to help them keep pushing onward. She often tells people she will pray for them in their situation — something she does each day.
There are a couple of things that strike me when I think of the work that she’s doing. For several years, she’s been older than all of her clients, but few if any of them know it, because she is spry, energetic and always smiling. The human contact she provides to her clients keeps her young.
Second, unless you are 93, it’s impossible to understand the strength it takes to get up every day to go to a physically demanding job — getting out of the car and walking to people’s doors 20 times. I am amazed by her strength.
Although it’s food she delivers — and that’s the reason she was named Hunger Fighter of the Year — her biggest contribution might be the hope and strength she shares everywhere she goes.
To comment, email Editor Peter Burke at email@example.com, call 438-2500 or post a comment at www.pressbanner.com.