The time around Christmas and New Year is a time of good food for many people. Is it also a time to think of those for whom even one hot meal a day is not a matter of course?
Radovish is a small town in southeast Macedonia with about 16,000 inhabitants. Like so many other cities in the country, Radovish has a weakly developed economy. Those who are somehow physically able to do so, travel to nearby towns every day to look for work. But time and again, it turns out that especially people over 45 or 50 years of age are of no interest to the majority of employers. The resulting unemployment drives many into poverty from which they can hardly find a way out.
About 30 km southeast of Radovish is the city of Strumica. There the United Methodist Church built the "Miss Stone Center" many years ago. Five times a week, the employees start early in the morning to prepare more than 160 meals for people in difficult life situations. These are then delivered by vehicle. The "Meals on Wheels" program is much more than an efficient meal delivery service. The feeling of being taken seriously and appreciated by someone has a similar nutritional value for the soul as a full meal has for the body. In conversation, employees also recognize emergencies and can respond to them with, for example, help with clothing, medication and firewood. As an extension of this program, a home care service has also been developed, in the course of which dozens of elderly people are regularly visited by two medical professionals and supported on their way to regaining the greatest possible independence. These elderly people are usually left behind after their children and grandchildren have moved away and there are hardly any government support programs for them.
As soon as the meals for the "Meals on Wheels" program are cooked, the preparation of another 50 meals begins, which are then brought to Radovish. Originally there were 18 different nutritious soups, which were prepared in rotation. However, after an adaptation in the kitchen of the "Miss Stone Center" it became possible to replace the soups with fixed meals. In the room that could be found for mealtimes, used clothes are also collected. In addition to the hot meal, the approximately 50 beneficiaries of the program can thus take along a well-preserved piece of clothing if they need one.
These programm are not able to solve structural problems. But they do help people in difficult situations, they inspire hope, and they give courage to take steps themselves - as the example of Marica in Radovish shows:
The now 61-year-old woman was born illegitimate, but after two or three years her mother married Marica's current stepfather, who is still alive while her mother died. When Marica was five or six years old, she was repeatedly mocked by the children in the neighborhood that she had no father. She often asked her mother where her father was, but she never got a real answer. And the idea that her stepfather could be a real father was not true at all. On the contrary: Marica's stepfather abused and beat her again and again until Marica ended up in hospital at the age of eight with a broken spine and paralysis. Fortunately, Marica was back on her feet after a few weeks of therapy, but with lifelong consequences. Due to the system in Macedonia at that time, there was no place for Marica and her mother where they could have found help or shelter.
Also at school, Marica was harassed by her classmates and when she came home she experienced the same bullying from her stepfather, so that the situation gradually affected her mental health. She was eventually diagnosed with a mental disability.
Throughout all these years, her mother was also constantly abused, and she suffered as well, but was unable to find protection and help until her death at the age of 65.
When Marica was already an adult woman, she was faced with the question of who would take care of her old stepfather of 85 years. She decided to care for him and help him as much as she could and as much as her mental disability would allow her to.
They still live in the same house, but Marica has a room that serves as a retreat for her. She never thinks about revenge and always says with a smile that this is the best time in her life. She is very grateful for the project "Warm Meal in Radovish" – she has a warm meal there and an opportunity for community in a place where she feels safe and welcome.
Source: Miss Stone Center/ Office of Bishop Patrick Streiff