Roving Pantry grocery delivery: service with a smile

Five days a week, Eddie Titchenor wakes up before 4:30 a.m.

His job begins an hour later outside the Dillons grocery store on the corner of Douglas and Hillside.

At 5:30 a.m. Titchenor fires up the two delivery vans parked outside the grocery store. The vans belong to Roving Pantry, a grocery delivery service for people 60 and older who are unable to shop for themselves.

Titchenor, 86, and retired for more than 20 years, still has the energy to deliver groceries to dozens of seniors five days a week, some younger than Titchenor himself. He drives one of the vans while another volunteer takes charge of the second delivery route.

Wearing a black fedora, pinstripe overalls with a pink flamingo and palm-tree laden shirt underneath, his wire-rimmed glasses askew to the right, Titchenor helps load the boxes with each customer’s grocery order – all while maintaining a spring in his step. Orders range from items as simple as milk, eggs, bread and yogurt, to more complex ones that can exceed $100.

“Here’s that extra cream of mushroom,” Titchenor says as he rolls the can back to the checker inside the store.

“One carton of eggs, four packs of Orbit, one tomato,” he says to himself as he unloads the groceries on the belt and double-checks the order. While the other three staff members gather the groceries, Titchenor stays up front to organize the carts and make sure the orders are correct.

Titchenor has worked with Roving Pantry for the last three years. At each stop on his delivery route he greets the customer with an emphatic, “Good mooorning, Roving Pantry.”

Many of the customers can’t get to the front door easily, so Titchenor lets himself in and meets them in the kitchen, where he makes it a point to ask them how they’re doing as he unloads their groceries on the counter.

“If you’re going into other people’s homes and they have problems, you want to be cheerful,” Titchenor said. “I leave all my problems at home.”

Opal Smith, the coordinator for Roving Pantry, has worked with the program for more than 35 years. She said the main reason the program has been sustainable is that there is a definite need for the service in Wichita. The program – part of Senior Services of Wichita – has just four members, three on staff and one volunteer.

“There’s many people who are just not able to help their parents like they’re used to,” Smith said. “We’ve had calls from as far as New York to set up the service for them.”

Customers only have to pay for the groceries; the delivery is provided at no cost. Smith said it would cost about $20 to $22 for each delivery, but because of funding the program receives from the United Way, the Department on Aging and other donations, it is able to provide deliveries for free. The service is provided Monday through Friday, and the program delivers to between 20 and 30 seniors a day.

Titchenor said what he likes most about the service are the interactions he has with the customers when he drops off their groceries.

Barbara Gralheer was the first stop Thursday on Titchenor’s route. Gralheer, who lives on her own, has been using the service for four years.

“I can’t make it to the store,” Gralheer said. “I wish every city could have something like this because they are lifesavers.”

Not all of the Roving Pantry’s customers live in a residence by themselves; some live in retirement communities, like Betty Feldhausen at Via Christi Village on South Georgetown. She has used the service for about two years and doesn’t need a full load of groceries.

“They have meals here, but there’s always something you crave that they don’t serve,” Feldhausen said as she pointed to her raisin bread and green tea.

As Titchenor made his rounds on Thursday, he mentioned to the customers that he was turning 87 Friday.

“You know, tomorrow’s my birthday,” Titchenor said to Lola Squires, one of his regulars.

“Oh, how old are you turning, 40?” Squires replied.

“26,” Titchenor said with a laugh.

For some of the customers, the best part is Titchenor’s friendly demeanor and the laughs he draws at just about every stop.

“He’s always just so cheerful and wears some of the most interesting hats,” Squires said.

Titchenor does get paid for his work. But like the others who work for Roving Pantry, he finds the greatest value in the service itself.

“I like the fact that I’m doing a favor for them,” Titchenor said. “It’s a joy to go into their place and see them so happy (for the service).”