Keith Lang rummages through his self-modified, insulated satchels draping off either side of the rear rack of his touring bicycle.
With his transport balancing against the side of the wall at the central Richmond apartment block entrance, Lang digs deep for Stanley’s hot lunch, before hoping “he’s up and around; he’s a great old guy.”
Still catching his breath a little from the 1.5-kilometre ride from the Thompson Community Centre pick-up point, Lang, armed with 92-year-old Stanley’s lunch of sausage and perogies, marches up to the third floor to deliver the meal.
Stanley’s carer answers the door.
The Second World War veteran is at home, in his living room, nibbling away at a sandwich and sipping a cup of tea, while surrounded by medication and bills.
His crinkled face slowly unravels and his dry mouth creaks into a smile when he sees who has brought lunch.
The meal slips into irrelevance as the pair converse vividly about Stanley’s role in the war after the D-Day landings and how he had to bury his friends in France.
Listening intently, his eyes wide, there’s not a trace of patronization in Lang’s responses for old Stanley.
His nods are not borne of politeness and he appears genuinely engrossed during the half hour or so of Stanley’s tales.
It was 30 minutes that doesn’t have a price. Half an hour you can’t buy in stores.
“I don’t usually get to spend that amount of time with him. He’s been in the hospital recently and sometimes he’s in the bath,” Lang says with a half-smile (he doesn’t smile a lot by his own admission) as we leave the apartment of Stanley, one of the 80 housebound people in Richmond receiving a meal every weekday from Care B.C.
Back outside, Lang quickly saddles up and is bumping over the grass around the back of the apartment block to his next Meals on Bikes delivery.
In 2009, realizing it was becoming increasingly problematic for their Meals on Wheels drivers to find parking spaces, Care B.C. — a non-profit organization — rolled into operation a sidetrack, greener distribution service by bicycle for the 400 Western and Chinese daily meals its 300 volunteers deliver every weekday in Vancouver and Richmond.
However, it wasn’t until May of 2013 that Richmond got its first, and to-date only, two-tire Meals on Wheels delivery person — Lang, who joined the small army of 60 volunteers in the city, helping to deliver more than 20,000 meals last year alone.
“As well as parking issues, we thought about looking for a more environmentally-friendly way for people to deliver,” said Chantal Bazinet, Care B.C.’s marketing and communications manager.
“Also, it means our volunteers don’t need to have a car and that broadens our potential reach, in terms of getting more volunteers.”
The Meals on Bikes are delivered in a basket attached to the bike and in insulated bags, said Bazinet.
“We try to keep the bike racks to about six to eight meals. They are cooked in Richmond at Mava Foods and volunteers pick up the meals at the kitchen there and drop them at depots around the city.”
There’s always the risk, admitted Bazinet, of the meals being on heat for too long, due to the nature of being hand-delivered.
More volunteers would help, she said.
“There’s always a need for more…and there’s always the chance of all the meals not getting out. But our volunteers are very flexible and they will help get it done.
“Obviously, we would love to get the meals out to the clients as quickly as possible.”
Ever since he was a kid, Stevestonite Lang, who retired from pharmaceutical sales 11 years ago, realized that being a good citizen means more than just paying your taxes.
“I’ve spent 25 years on boards and college boards and, after a while, it gets tedious,” he said, explaining his motivation for becoming Richmond’s only Meals on Bikes deliveryman.
“There was a seniors fair and there was a woman there looking for Meals on Wheels drivers, so I suggested this was a town where a bike could work.
“It’s so much fun and I do get to know some of them very well, some more than others.
“You get to check on people; like, if they’re slower to the door than usual; I can make sure everything’s OK and, if not, I can alert the right people. Sometimes, we are their only contact.”
For many of them, said Lang, their neighbours are anonymous and their families live far away, if they have any at all.
“They often have no-one to open the door to apart from us,” added Lang, who delivers once a week to anything from six to 10 clients’ meals such as frozen breakfasts, hot lunches and sandwich packs.
If there’s a torrential downpour or snowstorm, Care B.C. has the use of the Modo car share program.
But even the weather won’t deter Lang who, despite his love of cycling around Richmond every day for groceries, keeps at home a Volvo cross-country for the winter and a classic Porsche 911 for the summer.
“I bike all the time and I’ve toured all over Europe; from Amsterdam to Paris and up the Baltic Coast to Finland,” said Lang. “I do love to drive, but my preferred mode is by bike.
“I wear leggings in the winter here and I’ve got rain jackets. I only used the car once (for Meals on Wheels) when the bike was in the repair shop.
“The weather won’t stop the meals going out.”
If you would like to become a bike or driving volunteer for Care B.C.’s Meals on Wheels program, go to www.carebc.ca or call 604-733-6614.