Meals on Wheels program seeks volunteer drivers

Posted 30 March 2014 at 12:00 am

Program served more than 200 seniors last year

Photos by Sue Cook – Head driver Gregory Canham loads a cooler with hot meals into the back of a van. He will drive to each house on the route and drop off a meal while briefly checking a senior’s well-being.

Editor’s note: This story was updated from an earlier version to state there is a suggested donation for the meals and the total served last year was 47,000.

By Sue Cook, staff reporter

ALBION – For over 30 years, Orleans County senior citizens have been able to count on at least one hot meal per every weekday through the Meals on Wheels program.

The program saw a big change in 2009 when the Office for the Aging contracted with the Arc of Orleans County, the largest non-profit organization in the county, to run the program. It had been run by the First Presbyterian Church of Albion.

In five years the numbers of meals prepared at the site has increased from about 30,000 to 47,000 this past year. County officials say there is more need for the program. The change in location to the former Albion grammar school also offers more parking and easier accessibility, said Chuck Nesbitt, the county chief administrative officer.

Many of the disabled individuals who are a part of The Arc use Meals on Wheels. The Arc saw running Meals on Wheels as a perfect fit for the agency.

Some seniors will go on the program only briefly such as during a recovery period after a surgery, or they may be on the program permanently if they are disabled and do not have someone to help care for them. In many instances, the seniors only need the assistance during weekdays until a family member is available on weekends.

“We’re trying to get away from people thinking that it’s for people that are poor, because it’s really not,” said Nutrition Program Coordinator Vicki Havholm. “If you have surgery and you family is working during the day, we can help them during the day, to have that meal. We want to keep our seniors in their homes longer.”

That is one of the major goals of the program. Some families would consider putting a senior into assisted living communities or nursing homes as their health declines, but with the help of the Meals on Wheels program, seniors may be able to remain in their own homes because of the check-ins that drivers do when delivering meals.

Head driver Gregory Canham goes over his route for the day with Nutrition Program Coordinator Vicki Havholm.

Seniors or their families can call to ask for a senior to be added to the program to receive hot meals. A caseworker from the Office for the Aging will come to the person’s home and assess if there is a need for assistance. To qualify, a senior must be age 60 or older, must be homebound, receive insufficient support from family or friends and be unable to prepare food for themselves.

Havholm says that on average 102 seniors a week need the Meals on Wheels service. In the year 2013, Meals on Wheels fed 213 seniors with many only requiring help temporarily. The Nutrifair program served 284 at meal sites. Between the two programs, 47,000 meals were served in 2013.

Residents are suggested to give a contribution of $3 for hot meals, $2 for a cold meal prepacked for the senior to eat in the evening, and $3 for weekend meals which are delivered frozen during the weekday deliveries to be reheated in a microwave later.

Debbie Monnier of Albion is a volunteer driver with her husband Rob.

“It is a very worthwhile program,” she said. “I haven’t exactly done lot of volunteer work, but The Arc helped with our handicapped son when he was alive and we just wanted to give back. It’s run very well.”

Cooks will arrive very early in the morning and prepare all the food that will be used in the Meals on Wheels and Nutrifair programs. The programs share the same menu of what is served each day. The menu is determined by a registered dietician and comes as a low-sodium or diabetic option. The food is then packed into insulated coolers and kept warm to make sure they are served at a safe temperature.

Food is purchased in bulk to provide for both Meals on Wheels and Nutrifair. Food is stored in freezers and pantries until it is needed.

The program is currently seeking more volunteer drivers. They are especially short of help right now while a couple of their regular drivers are out of the area until the weather is warm. Drivers are responsible for a scheduled route of roughly 10 to 15 seniors, which usually takes between 1 and 3 hours.

The driver will arrive at the home, provide the senior with the meal, and also check to make sure the senior is safe and does not need any help. If the senior needs assistance, the driver will contact someone for help, such as the Office for the Aging or emergency services.

Anyone interested in becoming a driver can contact the Meals on Wheels in Albion. They will be asked to fill out an application with three references. They must also have their own vehicle, a valid driver’s license, proof of insurance and are required to be at least 18 years old. The drivers must be able to deliver during morning hours, which can make it difficult to find volunteers because many people work during that time.

“It’s very hard to get these volunteers,” said Havholm. She speculates that many of the older generations that normally would volunteer are likely still employed instead of retiring. “Some of them are working still into their 60s and 70s.”

Denise Withey, Community Relations Specialist at Arc, wants people to be aware that they don’t need to worry about the cost of gas because there is reimbursement. “We do pay a stipend for gas. It’s based on mileage. So only the time is volunteer.”

Havholm said volunteers are welcome, even if it’s seasonal or one day a month. She said that for anyone who is under the required minimum volunteer age for drivers, they can inquire about helping out with the program’s fundraising events. She also welcomes monetary donations to The Arc for the Meals on Wheels program.

To volunteer for the Meals on Wheels program, call Havholm at (585) 589-5424 between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. on any weekday.