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Meet Daryl Twerdahl of St. Vincent Meals on Wheels

Today we’d like to introduce you to Daryl Twerdahl.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Daryl. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I grew up in the South where stories matter. And this is my story.

In 1989, my much-beloved Grandfather became ill and needed to be placed in assisted living for a short period of time until we could arrange support for him in his own home. During that time, I traveled from Los Angeles to Arkansas on a regular basis to visit Pop. On what turned out to be my last visit to him in assisted living, Pop, at age 92, began to cry. He wanted to go home. He wanted to be in a place he knew and a place that held many cherished memories for him. This was remarkable to me. I had never seen my grandfather cry, not when his daughter, my mother, died or when his wife, my grandmother, died. It was a sure sign that Pop meant it – he wanted to be at home. And, indeed he was able to go home because we were able to provide the intervention of food and support for him at home.

I came back from that visit both moved and determined that if I could ever help other seniors stay in their own homes I would. And then, the proverbial lightning struck! I learned about a Daughter of Charity, Sister Alice Marie Quinn, and the program she founded and ran, St. Vincent Meals on Wheels. The day that I first met Sister, she told me that many seniors, just like Pop, really want to stay in their own homes and that often Meals on Wheels could make that possible with daily meals and visits. Sister, lovingly called SAM by her friends, explained the importance of serving seniors with the values of compassion and respect. I was inspired by the care provided to homebound seniors who really had no one but Meals on Wheels. I kept imagining my grandfather alone and hungry. It was unthinkable.

Thus, in 1989, my journey with Meals on Wheels began. I owned a business on Larchmont Boulevard and Sister would send a Meals on Wheels van to Larchmont to meet me and off we would go to deliver meals in the neighborhood where I worked and lived. I had 13 years of awesome experiences and opportunities to change lives through volunteering at St. Vincent Meals on Wheels when my next chapter opened.

Sister asked me to help with fundraising. Though I had no experience doing that, she knew that I had the heart for the seniors. I still had my business and my family but nonetheless, I began working with SAM 3 days a week, though as my husband pointed out, I am too much of a type A personality to do something halfway. Sister got a good deal! The Director of Annual Giving became full time as more seniors needed our support. That role expanded to Director of Development and then to Executive Director of Development and that led, 16 years later to my current position as Interim Executive Director of St. Vincent Meals on Wheels. Every day has its challenges but every day we get to save lives. I can’t ask for a better opportunity to live my life fully. There are challenges for sure, but every senior we serve has a story of their own, and they share those stories with us. When I hear a senior’s voice whisper a “thank you” or say “If it weren’t for Meals on Wheels, I would have nothing to eat”, I know that what we do each day is what we are meant to do. And my story is here.

Has it been a smooth road?
The 29-year road has been the journey of a lifetime. It has been filled with ups and downs and struggles and successes. But, it is definitely a ride worth taking – and like so much more in life, that ride may never be smooth. My most rewarding accomplishments are the ones that were the toughest. The obstacles that have tested me have also helped me appreciate the successes I have had.

When I first began my volunteer chapter here, I delivered to a lady who was cranky and demanding – in fact, she actually made me cry. I was young and hadn’t really been exposed to the kind of attitude she had. I will never forget coming back to the kitchen and walking into Sister Alice Marie’s office – telling her every detail of my tale of woe. I still remember the senior chastised me because she said she was NOT a vegetarian and we had sent her a vegetarian meal. I remember apologizing while trying to figure out what to do. When I relayed all this to Sister, her response was simple. “Daryl, she is lonely and the only way she has to keep you there is to complain.” That was as though a new day of understanding had dawned. That one lesson I learned on that particular day at Meals on Wheels provided a turning point for my understanding of our service. That senior and the challenge she presented slapped me with an understanding of compassion and what it means to really serve with compassion.

When I was appointed by the Board of Directors to the position of Interim Executive Director, I faced a different kind of challenge. I faced and had to recognize all that Sister Alice Marie had done to build this program. I was faced with stabilizing a 40-year-old organization in the wake of the Founder/Executive Director who was herself an icon in the community. Much like the systems that we establish within families, there was a system here that worked. Like a family, it presented opportunities for growth but also opportunities for disaster. Changing even one little thing could be a catastrophe. And yet, I knew I had to change the family dynamic. As we love to say in the South, there was a new sheriff in town – and no one really liked that. I had to lead through feelings of loss when SAM died and feelings that change was coming and insisting on different standards and so much more. But I remembered, always, the lessons of compassionate service. That is, after all, what we are all about.
Day by day, a little change occurs and in those changes, opportunities for growth and continuing stability soar and in that lies the sense of accomplishment and purpose that continues to drive me and our mission.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with St. Vincent Meals on Wheels – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
St. Vincent Meals on Wheels is the largest privately funded Meals on Wheels program in the country. Founded over 40 years ago, our mission has never wavered or changed. The core values of the Daughters of St. Vincent de Paul are the basis of all that we do and they inform the way we deliver service to our homebound seniors every day.

Our mission is to serve anyone in need regardless of age, religion, ethnicity, disability or ability to pay. Unlike many Meals on Wheels programs that are dependent on government funding, we do not have a wait list for seniors to eat. When a senior reaches out, we respond. Our mission distinguishes us and allows us to always be the safety net program for our hungry seniors. The compassion which we demonstrate each time we deliver a meal and a smile drive us and continue to be the backbone of St. Vincent Meals on Wheels. The relationships we form and the work we do, becoming family for our seniors, is what I am most proud of.
It is this that makes my heart sing!

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
The unparalleled diversity of LA is something I treasure. Having grown up on a farm in Arkansas where there was little diversity, it is a stark contrast. My parents valued education and coloring outside the box. They taught me to stretch and follow their example and for me, LA provides the biggest box with the most crayons. It is full of opportunity to learn – from others who are so different and to expand horizons in all the best ways. The interaction of so many cultures presents constant opportunities to break barriers that separate us and hold us back. The challenges are great but so are the opportunities to create a better community with exceptional opportunities for us all.

Of course, the underbelly of all the diversity that LA offers can create such an ugly realization that we are a city divided by those who have and those who have not. LA is one of the wealthiest cities in the world and yet, we go downtown to 6th Street in the heart of the great failed social experiment of Skid Row, to find people living on the streets with little access to basic services. The shame of this all is that we do not seem to have the political will to address this in a meaningful way.

We should all be filled with the disgrace that in this beautiful city we allow this diaspora to exist. Meals on Wheels is working to be a part of the solution to this by providing early interventions of nutritional support that may help keep seniors in their homes. We want to change the dialogue and work with others to create a healthy community for everyone. The vision of a city we all enjoy is a vision I like.

Pricing:

  • Our meals cost $7.85 to prepare and deliver to a hungry senior.
  • We ask if a senior is able, that they pay $2.50 towards their meal cost.
  • The average a homebound senior can pay for their meal is less than $.70.

Contact Info:

  • Website: www.stvincentmow.org
  • Phone: 213-484-7112
  • Email: dtwerdahl@stvincentmow.org
  • Instagram: #stvmow
  • Facebook: stvmow
  • Twitter: @stvmow

Image Credit:
Alan Braus

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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