“Have you ever seen the TV show Deadliest Catch…about the fishermen in Alaska?” George Hamilton asked. “That’s where I was stationed. But those people [in the TV show] were sissies. They came in for the winter months, and I spent two winters up there!”
Sitting with him in his Pleasant Grove, Alabama living room on a sunny fall afternoon, it’s difficult to imagine Mr. Hamilton, a 97-year-old World War II veteran, shivering aboard a destroyer in the icy waters surrounding the Aleutian Islands; but as part of the United States Navy, he did just that. He spent 16 months – including those two frigid winters – helping defend our nation’s Eastern front against attacks from the Japanese.
Mr. Hamilton first heard the call to join the Navy after the bombing at Pearl Harbor but waited to enlist until his boss at the Alabama Department of Transportation joined up the following year. His selfless commitment to the military was a very tangible testament to his dedication to service, which has been woven into the fabric of his life for many decades. But his sense of responsibility and desire to serve didn’t start with the Navy. He believes it began much earlier.
“The older I get, the more I think it was a privilege to grow up during the Great Depression. I learned so much about people!” he said. “We lived right by the train tracks, so just about every day, men would get off the train looking for work to do in exchange for something to eat or a dollar to send home. My family was fortunate during that time period, so if we had an extra biscuit, we’d give it to them. I probably had that in the back of my mind when I first got involved with Meals on Wheels.”
It was more than 60 years after the Depression (and a life that’s included a stint as a professional baseball player, a career in local industry and 10 mission trips to Nicaragua) that Mr. Hamilton enlisted again – this time with Meals on Wheels, the program that delivers hot meals five days a week to homebound seniors in Jefferson County. He’s made many of those deliveries himself ever since signing on as a volunteer in the 1990s. And although he now depends on a friend and fellow volunteer (a 67-year-old whippersnapper) to do the driving, his is still the friendly face that shows up like clockwork, meal in hand, at the door of homebound seniors in Pleasant Grove three Fridays a month. The pair is among more than 800 volunteers who deliver nearly 240,000 meals each year. But Mr. Hamilton is quick to note that the impact of Meals on Wheels reaches far beyond the meals themselves.
“For some of these folks, we’re the only people they’ll see all day,” he said. “So it’s important that we’re there to say hi and even just to check to make sure they’re okay.”
He also remarked on how special it is to build relationships with Meals on Wheels clients over time.
“When I first started delivering to a couple of them, they’d just open the door, grab their food and close the door,” he said. “They might say thank you; they might not. Now, they carry on a conversation with me. That just tickles me!”
Volunteers such as Mr. Hamilton help Meals on Wheels deliver a taste of hope to seniors across our community day after day. With one in six Alabama seniors facing food insecurity – and about 100 new requests for service coming into Meals on Wheels every month there’s never been a better time to donate or volunteer in support of this vital program. You can learn more about those opportunities here. According to Mr. Hamilton, all it takes is a little perspective.
“I try to look at it like, ‘If I was in that position, what would I want someone to do?’” he said. “And that makes it easy.”