Five days a week, 96-year-old Samuel Avritt gleefully wheels to the front door of his Lawton home to welcome Gaylon Pahdocony.
“Come on in, get in here!” Avritt shouts through the screen door.
As he steps over the threshold, Pahdocony smiles warmly at his friend, asks him how he’s doing and hands him two large styrofoam containers filled with warm food. Avritt invites him in and heads to the kitchen to see what’s for lunch.
“It’s wonderful,” said Avritt of Phdocony’s visits. “Not only the lunch, but the friendliness and the fellowship.”
Each weekday, Pahdocony, along with a handful of other deliverers and drivers, makes dozens of home meal deliveries to seniors throughout Lawton and the surrounding communities, a program run by the Comanche Nation Elder Center.
“It gives you a good feeling when you see that people need help and what you’re doing is helping them by providing a good meal,” Pahdocony said.
Marilyn Bigbow Guerrero serves as the Comanche Nation Elder Center Title VI director and said the center’s meal programs are funded by a three-year federal grant that allows them to assist native elders age 60 and older.
The center, 11 SW H, is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, serving daily group lunches at 11:45 a.m. At 9 a.m., drivers head out to deliver meals to elders who can’t make it to the center, including those who are disabled or without transportation.
They deliver to seniors within a radius of about 40 miles, including to homes in places like Walters, Cache and Indiahoma. Guerrero estimated they made 34,000 home deliveries in 2018.
“For a lot of them, it’s great because we give really good meals,” Guerrero said. “We try to give an abundance. Sometimes it’s the only meal they get for days.”
The benefits of home deliveries can be two-fold: while dropping off food, drivers also can assess an elder’s well-being and connect them to needed resources, like transportation to a medical appointment or a home cleaning organization. Guerrero said if the drivers believe there might be elder abuse happening in a home, they report it to authorities.
“Our drivers are the gatekeepers for our elders,” Guerrero said. “They check on them and get them whatever they need.”
The center’s home delivery program is inter-tribal and available to all native elders, regardless of nation or tribe.
Avritt’s wife of 66 years, Lawanna Joyce Avritt, is from Sterling and a member of the Choctaw Nation. Together, they have five children and 24 grandchildren, and they live in various places across the country, from New Mexico to Florida.
“They visit from time to time,” Avritt said of his family.
But most of the time, he’s on his own, relying on hospice caregivers who stop several days a week to provide care for Lawanna, who has Alzheimer’s disease, and the kindness of those like Pahdocony.
“Sometimes it’s a pretty lonesome life I have here,” Avritt said. “I look forward to him coming, there’s always a smile.”
Avritt is no stranger to loneliness. He lost his right leg to a bad infection when he was 10, and for two years, he could hardly go to school or play with his friends — until the day his father bought him a bicycle he could ride with the use of his prosthetic.
“When I got that bicycle, it put me back into society,” he said.
Though he wore a prosthetic leg for most of his life, Avritt, at 96, has traded it for a wheelchair, but arthritis in his arms and shoulders prevent him from getting too far.
When Pahdocony stops in on his route that might include up to 50 homes in one day, he makes sure to ask Avritt how he’s doing. They talk about their mornings, the Bible and their shared interest: rocks.
Avritt worked as a gemologist for 35 years, and remnants of his career are scattered throughout his home. Pahdocony used to work as a firefighter out of state, and on his drives, he’d collect interesting stones and rocks to bring home.
“He’s always fun to visit with,” Pahdocony said of Avritt, knowing that likely on many days, it’s the only conversation Avritt might have.
“They get happy when you deliver a meal to them,” he added of the seniors he sees throughout the day. “Some don’t have anyone coming over to visit them, so it’s a good feeling.”
Make no mistake, Pahdocony said he reaps the benefits, too.
“It makes you feel good to see somebody who is very glad to see you,” he said. “They’re glad you’re here and glad to see a smiling face. That’s always great.”
For more information about the Comanche Nation Elderly Center, call 355-2330 or go to comanchenation.com/departments/family-services/elderly-center.