Linda Exman and Marilyn Stetar have spent every Christmas together for more than a decade.
But instead of sharing tasty, hot meals, they are delivering them — along with some much-needed holiday cheer — to homebound, elderly New Yorkers through the Citymeals on Wheels program.
“It’s a family day and a lot of people don’t have families anymore or don’t have families near them,” said Exman, who lives on the Upper East Side and is retired from a career in book publishing and marketing. “We get these wonderful big smiles.”
“They are always happy to see us,” Stetar added.
The duo is part of a team of almost 500 dedicated volunteers with the program gearing up to deliver 20,000 meals on Christmas Day across the five boroughs.
The food will be prepared at 12 different centers, and the menus vary. But past holiday meals have included festive offerings such as Cornish hen, stuffing, broccoli, arroz gandules and apple pie.
Exman and Stetar lug the large bags of hot and cold food as they go through their Upper East Side route of five to eight apartments.
The deliveries also include a present, usually a Christmas stocking filled with toiletries and other useful gifts.
“We always try to see the person, even if the caretaker answers the door,” Exman said. “Especially on Christmas Day when they are not sure if they are going to get a delivery.”
Even just a few minutes of chitchat often brightens the recipient’s day.
“It’s a nice way of connecting with people who otherwise may not get a visitor on Christmas Day,” said Stetar, who lives on the Upper West Side and teaches English as a Second Language.
Exman said the experience has been an eye-opener. She had no idea so many of her Upper East Side neighbors were struggling.
“There are all these pockets around the city where people are shut away and other people don’t see them,” she said.
Throughout the year, Citymeals on Wheels partners with 29 meal centers around the city to distribute more than 2 million weekend, holiday and emergency meals to over 18,000 homebound, elderly people.
“It just seems like the right thing to do and we are happy to do it,” Exman said.