By Michael Rizzo
You might think Balroop Pirmal is just a driver or deliveryman. After all, his full-time job is to drop off food to recipients of the Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens Home Delivered Meals program.
But Pirmal and his fellow drivers in the program are more than just a charitable Peapod service. They also act as a welcome hello and safety check for a number of elderly homebound individuals in Queens.
Pirmal, who’s known to everyone as “Evan,” a nickname he got growing up in Trinidad, begins his workday at the Catholic Charities Ozone Park Senior Center at St. Mary Gate of Heaven Church. That’s where 55-60 wrapped meals are prepped six days each week for 16 routes in Southwest Queens.
After stocking the refrigerator compartments of one of the organization’s new Ford F150 trucks, he starts his regular route with me onboard to drive 18 miles and walk another five-to-six miles to make his deliveries.
He drives carefully as he travels the streets of Queens, never speeding or trying to make it through a light that’s changing from green to red.
“We’re told not to speed,” he said, “and when we get to the client’s home to be patient and give them time to come to the door. We’re trained to listen for their footsteps and look at their faces and see that they’re OK. For a lot of them I’m the only person they see all day. It costs me nothing to stay and chat. My visit can make their life a little better.”
Pirmal’s route serves the areas of Jamaica, South Jamaica and Rochdale but most of the people he delivers to live in the high-rise complex of Rochdale Village where he needs to be buzzed in to each building he visits.
“Good morning darlin’,” he says with his Caribbean accent into the lobby intercom at his first stop in the Village.
“It’s Mr. Wonderful,” the voice at the other end responds, clearly knowing who it is. Louise Graves, a member of Christ the King parish, Springfield Gardens, comes down to greet him warmly.
“He’s my morning glory,” she said, “and he makes sure I get these meals. I appreciate it so much.”
The Catholic Charities program delivers more than 12,000 meals every week to the homebound, whom they call clients, in both Brooklyn and Queens. The clients are of all faiths and backgrounds. Support comes from the NYC Department for the Aging and Citymeals-on-Wheels.
“A typical meal always has a protein like meat, plus a potato, rice or couscous, a vegetable, bread, milk, juice and fruit,” said Kathy Dalbey, of St. Helen’s, Howard Beach, and program manager for the Catholic Charities program in Southwestern Queens. Meals are both kosher and non-kosher.
After his first stop in Rochdale Village, Pirmal moves from floor to floor in building after building in the complex. Sometimes it’s by elevator, sometimes by stairs. He brings the meals in a small insulated bag on wheels.
“Some drivers didn’t want this route because of all the walking,” he said.
One client is so sure Pirmal will always make his delivery, he leaves his apartment door open. Pirmal puts the food inside the door and shouts that it’s there. He then adjusts the lock and closes the door so it’s secure as he leaves.
The 60-year-old Pirmal, a resident of Ozone Park of Indian descent and a practicing Hindu, has been a Catholic Charities’ driver since 2009.
“I drove a taxi for 24 years but I had it with all that,” he said. “I think this is my calling. No money in the world can buy you that smile you get from people when I deliver to them.”
George Jones says it means a lot to get the meal deliveries and a smile crosses his face when he’s asked about Pirmal.
“He’s a very decent guy,” he adds.
One of Pirmal’s oldest clients is 95-year old Rene Weinfeld.
“It’s a blessing,” she said about the deliveries by Pirmal. “He understands that I’m old and alone. Some people could just give you the food and go. When he comes, it’s like a family member visiting.”
But another client has a different priority.
Pearl Brown suggests more carrots, tuna salad, oranges, apples and bananas in her lunchtime meals but offered this opinion about the man she knows as “Evan.”
“He’s the best,” she said, “and I miss him so much whenever he’s out.”