NEWS

Meals on Wheels reaches out to recruit volunteer drivers

Posted 8/18/21

By JARED GUSTAFSON In 2020 during the height of the pandemic, Meals on Wheels delivered 4,000 meals and safety checks a day to homebound seniors. The pace has lessened. The agency is currently making 1,500 daily deliveries but now faces a shortage of

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NEWS

Meals on Wheels reaches out to recruit volunteer drivers

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In 2020 during the height of the pandemic, Meals on Wheels delivered 4,000 meals and safety checks a day to homebound seniors.

The pace has lessened. The agency is currently making 1,500 daily deliveries but now faces a shortage of volunteer drivers says Executive Director Meghan Grady.

During the height of the pandemic there were plenty of volunteers.

“People stepped up to help because they were out of work,” she said. On the other hand, some of the older volunteers cut back because of health concerns.

As restrictions were lifted and with businesses reopening, those who stepped up during the height of the pandemic went back to work leaving Meals on Wheels without those volunteers.

Meals on Wheels, an independent non-profit “organization dedicated primarily to meeting the nutritional and other special needs of the elderly in order to help them maintain their independent lifestyles” has served the state for 52 years.

This mission is credited to Joe Brown who founded Meals on Wheels on February 17th, 1969.

91 percent of people they serve are over 65 years of age. 54 percent of those people are over the age of 80. 62 percent of the people they serve live alone and 62 percent are also women. Lastly, 22 percent of the people they serve are veterans or spouses of veterans.

In 2020 they delivered 336,678 frozen meals to 2,748 seniors statewide. During each one of those visits there was a safety check conducted by the volunteer. During the height of the pandemic Meals on Wheels was in high demand. They delivered more than 275,000 frozen meals to Rhode Island seniors statewide during the pandemic. There was not one day of disrupted work during the pandemic.

Meals on Wheels is able to have so much success due to the help of their donors. In March of 2020 during their annual March for Meals fundraising event they were able to raise a record-setting $166,000. Then during their annual fundraising event called, Festival of Meals a virtual telethon they raised more than $100,000.

Director of Development & PR at Meals on Wheels, Rebecca Keister said, “Over the course of the year, about 700 volunteers are active in helping us enact on our everyday mission. With folks returning to work, we are actively looking for volunteers to fill spots that will soon become open on 18 of our delivery routes.”

Meals on Wheels has nine part-time drivers who deliver more meals per route than volunteers because of the extended distance in Providence County. However, when a smaller route needs to be completed and there is no volunteer to do deliveries, Meals on Wheels requests part-time drivers to absorb part of all of that route into their delivery schedule.

Grady went on to say that “It’s a wonderful opportunity to volunteer your time with Meals on Wheels.”

“The people that volunteer for us say that they always look to their volunteer day each week.”

Volunteers need to have a valid drivers license. If not, the volunteer can still go on ride alongs with another driver who has a valid drivers license. Volunteers must also have a reliable vehicle.

The organization is looking to cover 18 routes in West Warwick, Providence and Pawtucket.

Meals on Wheels Board of Directors member Elizabeth Phillips knows what it’s like to make deliveries.

She accompanied Meals on Wheels paid driver Fran. During five hours they delivered 54 meals and safety checks.

“It was a great experience,” said Phillips.

Phillips was amazed that Fran knew all the names of the senior citizens she dropped meals off to. Phillips said Fran even knew the names of the senior’s pets.

Phillips said, “The volunteers and senior citizens all keep an eye out for each other.”

“The connection the volunteers have with the community is incredible,” said Phillips.

Additionally, Phillips mentioned Meals on Wheels needs more volunteers to help keep seniors indoors during the pandemic, which helps them stay safe and healthy.

“I think it’s important as a board member to stay connected with the volunteers and community,” said Phillips.

Phillips works as an attorney at Hackman & Phillips Elder Law for her full time job. Phillips said, “Meghan Grady reached out to me to consider joining about a year and a half ago. As an elder law attorney, becoming part of the Board of Directors like a natural fit. Meals on Wheels has been an invaluable service for many of my clients and I hope the work experience and expertise in elder law I bring to the table will help contribute to the continued growth and success of the organization.

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