Michele McNally

From Apples to Ice Cream: Friendship Blossoms in Unlikely Place

Mr. Shelly Martin and volunteer Michele McNally grocery shop together every other week.
Mr. Shelly Martin and volunteer Michele McNally grocery shop together every other week.

It’s 1:45 pm on a Thursday afternoon and Mr. Shelly Martin, 79, is patiently sitting in the warm lobby of Friendship Terrace, a senior living community in Northwest, DC that he’s called home for almost 20 years.

After a few minutes, in walks his visitor. They greet each other like old friends and immediately pick up a conversation. It’s obvious the two have a practiced rhythm and routine, as they catch up and chat about anything and everything from family stories to the Power Ball lottery. From an outsider’s perspective, you’d never guess the visitor is Michele McNally, an Iona volunteer, and that she and Mr. Martin have known each other for just over a year.

Michele has been a volunteer for Iona on-and-off for nearly 10 years. Through the years, she’s helped clean older adults’ homes and even do laundry. Currently, she assists Iona’s nutrition team by providing administrative support to our home-delivered meals program. And, every other week, Michele goes grocery shopping with Mr. Martin.

Time Flies By

Talking as they navigate the seemingly endless store, it’s easy to see the care and genuine interest between Michele and Mr. Martin. For both of them, it’s much more than groceries. “Sometimes, we might just have two things on our shopping lists,” says Michele. “But, we spend most of the time chatting. He’s very easy to talk to.”

That becomes obvious as Mr. Martin, a true conversationalist, shares tales of his days growing up in New York. He speaks slowly — but deliberately — with a slight, Brooklyn accent, and Michele learns that he used to play the trumpet. He was an insurance salesman. He helped his father with photography. It’s easy to get lost in the conversation and forget all about their main task. In fact, practically two hours fly by as the duo weave in and out through aisles of colorful packaging and frozen meals, occasionally stopping to grab something from their list.

A Way to Connect

For Michele, the errand serves as a way to give back and connect with a new community. “We’re all going to age,” she says. “And, I think there can be a lot of loneliness and isolation that comes with that.”

Being able to support an older population is also important because her own family is back in Minnesota. Visiting Mr. Martin, then, “is a little bit of a way to connect to that family aspect,” Michele explains.

As they part ways, it’s easy to see the outing is important to Mr. Martin, too. With a twinkle in his blue eyes, he says goodbye. Like always, Michele replies, “Until next time, Mr. Martin.”