“We recently received the funding to open two more routes in the Pittsburg and Antioch areas,” said Program Manager Sharon Fitzgerald. “To open the routes, we are in urgent need of volunteer drivers.”
To open a route, Fitzgerald needs five drivers per route, one for each day of the week. (Each volunteer delivers meals to the elderly only once a week.) She also needs five to 10 relief drivers to fill in when regularly scheduled drivers are ill or on vacation. A route includes approximately 16 stops and takes about two hours to complete. Deliveries are made between 10:15 a.m. and noon.
Meal on Wheels has served Contra Costa County for more than 40 years. Through the program, seniors who are homebound and unable to shop for themselves or prepare meals receive one premade meal Monday through Friday. The meals are hot and ready to serve. For those seniors who need meals on Saturday and Sunday, two frozen meals are provided, accompanied by heating instructions.
While some volunteers have shown interest, Fitzgerald cannot open a new route until she has a full complement of regular and relief drivers. But even after the two routes are opened, there will still be seniors on the waiting list hoping an additional route is created for their area.
“There is always a waitlist for these services,” Fitzgerald said. “There are seniors who stay in their homes all day, and the Meals on Wheels driver may be the only human contact they have that day. It’s really important to make that personal connection. And volunteering is easy. To be a Meals on Wheels driver, you need to dedicate only a few hours a week, and it makes such a difference in the lives of our clients.”
The Meals on Wheels program also serves as a safety check. When Meals on Wheels clients aren’t home during delivery, program representatives call around to locate them. If the representatives can’t find the client, Meals on Wheels requests that a police officer check to make sure everything is OK.
“Meals on Wheels is about nutrition, companionship and a safety net for our seniors,” Fitgerald said. “About 59 percent of the seniors we serve are getting by on less than $1,000 a month. These homebound seniors are members of the hidden population and we need to take care of them.”
Fitzgerald said once drivers join the program, they get hooked. She has many drivers who have been supporting the program for more than 20 years. Brentwood resident Sherman Geeser has been with the program for 12 years. While he initially became a volunteer driver to have something to do once he entered retirement, he said the volunteer work is so rewarding that he runs two shifts in Brentwood on Mondays and Wednesdays.
“I’ve met a lot of really nice people through this program, and it’s nice to know that I’m doing a little something to make someone’s day better,” Geeser said. “You get to chat with clients and check in with them to see how they’re doing. It’s a gratifying experience to know you’re doing a good deed for the community. And it’s a really easy program to get involved with. All you need is a few hours a week.”
To become a volunteer driver for Meals on Wheels, you must have a valid California driver’s license, your own car and car insurance. Drivers are also required to keep a charged cell phone with them in case they need to receive information during a delivery. Food is picked up from Bateman Canteen on Auto Center Drive in Antioch. Thermal bags keep meals hot for up to two hours. Coolers filled with blue ice packs preserve the cold portion of the meals. Before drivers go out on their own, they take an hour-long training course and shadow an experienced Meals on Wheels driver to learn the ropes and greet people on their new route.
For Brentwood resident Jim Frazier, Meals on Wheels gives him the chance to be involved with the community and make new friends. He’s been with the program for five years and is a member of the Friends of Meals on Wheels Advisory Board, which helps plan fundraising efforts.
“Meals on Wheels is an amazing program,” said Frazier, who drives a route in Pittsburg. “Not only are you providing a meal to someone in need, but you’re making a connection. Never underestimate the power of kind words. That might be the only contact our seniors have that day, and that means a lot to them. Folks think they don’t have time to dedicate to this program, but it’s only a few hours of your day. When you see the smiles on the seniors’ faces, you know you’ve made a difference.”
Even if you don’t have time to become a driver, you can still support Meals on Wheels through monetary donations, which can be sent to Meals on Wheels Senior Outreach Services, 1300 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.
While the program provides meals to seniors, volunteers also go above and beyond to help seniors feel cared for by creating special birthday and holiday packages for delivery throughout the year. Seniors also receive emergency packs of nonperishable foods twice a year.
“Our volunteers are the hearts and hands of this program, and I’m so grateful for their support,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re like family, and we’re always looking for new members.”
For more information or to volunteer, visit www.mowsos.org, call Fitzgerald at 925-937-8607 or e-mail email@example.com.