Preschooler sacrifices gifts for Meals on Wheels

Ridgefielder Kerri Ungaro knows the importance of giving back, but she wants her children to know it, too.

By inspiring her children to help those in need, she is hoping to start a trend.

Her son, Dominic, turned 5 in February, but he didn’t want gifts this year. Instead, he was happy for his friends from Enchanted Garden Preschool to donate to Meals on Wheels — where he, along with his mom and two older siblings, volunteer delivering food once a month.

“He got on board really fast,” said Ungaro. ”He’s been delivering to Meals on Wheels with me for almost three years.”

Ungaro told The Press that her kids get invited to about 30 parties a year, which account for a few hundred dollars in gifts.

“Almost everyone has a party and they invite the whole class,” she said.

“So figure $20 per gift for each party, you’re talking several hundred dollars that could be repurposed for something much more valuable.”

She explained that since Ridgefield is such a privileged community, oftentimes gifts are redundant — items that children already have — and that it’s common practice to re-gift at other parties.

She came up with the idea of donating, and saw an opportunity to keep on teaching her children about helping the community.

Ungaro believes that that’s everyone’s responsibility, and she wants her kids to know it from an early age.

“I don’t want my kids to realize this when they’re 30, I want them to know this now,” she said, “And build the habit of carving time out of your schedule to do something really meaningful for somebody else.”

Meals on Wheels

Ungaro first got involved with Meals on Wheels of Ridgefield three years ago. She was looking for a charitable activity she could do with her kids.

She quickly learned that being a volunteer for Meals on Wheels (MOW) is not just about delivering food.

“We shouldn’t just drop the food off and leave, but rather try to engage with these people, who many times are alone for weeks at a time,” she said.

“Many of them are widows, many of them have elderly children. Their children are in their 70s — they are in no position to be taking care of them.”

Ungaro and her kids try to spend some time with each client.

“They really enjoy seeing little kids,” she said.

The family has developed close relationships.

“MOW gives you the same route often, so you see the same client over and over again,” said Ungaro.

“Maybe after a year of delivering to an elderly woman, it just occurred to me, she’s totally homebound — she’s a complete prisoner in her home, but she would love to go out. She’s totally mentally healthy.”

Ungaro and her kids have adopted that woman, Mary, as part of their family mission. They bring her along to deliver meals to the rest of their clients.

Mary also comes to dinner at the Ungaro home every once in a while, and loves to to play with the family’s two Bengal cats.

“For my kids to know that you can show that kind of care to someone you’re not related to, and that’s really your responsibility as a human being,” said Ungaro. “It’s a tremendous mutually beneficial relationship; she’s a special person in our life now.”

Teaching philanthropy

Ungaro wasn’t always this inclined toward charitable endeavors.

“I had kind of an awakening a decade ago,” she said. “I realized there are so many people you can help in tangible ways. Not just with money, but with your time and with your care.”

She said that every time they deliver for Meals on Wheels it provides a valuable opportunity to have meaningful discussions about privilege and civic responsibility with her kids.

“It’s a reminder all of our lives will eventually, most likely, if we’re lucky enough to live long, we’ll be in complete physical disrepair,” she said.

“The importance of society to serve those people at no cost, out of the goodness of your heart — we talk about that kind of stuff all the time.”