For many senior homebound residents in Tarrant County, a nutritious meal and a friendly face can make a world of difference. Meals on Wheels is making this happen for thousands of senior citizens.
The local Meals on Wheels organization started in 1973 and currently serves 4,824 Fort Worth residents, and this number keeps on growing. An average of 150 new clients are added each month, according to the Meals on Wheels Annual Report.
However, this operation would not be possible without the help from approximately 4,000 volunteers. But the organization is still in need of more volunteers, due to the rise of clients needing meals each month.
“Our program is growing and there is always additional help needed,” said Nedra Cutler, vice-president of volunteer services. “Many of our volunteers have been with us for a long time and some of them are having to retire.”
This volunteer group she refers to is “The Greatest Generation.” Cutler said this group is heavily involved because their schedules allow them more flexibility.
Jack Derddyn, a 93-year-old volunteer, is a location manager who ensures that all volunteers have the supplies they need to deliver their route.
“The people you work with are some of the nicest people you will ever meet,” Derddyn said.
As this group has aged, she said many of the volunteers are no longer able to help as much. The organization is now trying to recruit younger volunteers.
Abby Schell, a senior at Texas Christian University, has volunteered for the past two-and-a-half years and recruits other students to join her.
“After volunteering for a while, you learn more about the social issues behind the problem that we are trying to fix with Meals on Wheels,” said Schell. “We are able to help eliminate some of the social isolation that some of these homebound elderly clients experience.”
As Schell points out, many of these clients receive little to no contact outside of the volunteers that arrive for a short time to visit and deliver their meal at lunchtime.
“Most of the people that we deliver to are really genuinely glad to see us when we arrive,” said Shawn Williams, a junior sociology major at TCU.
Schell recalls a time that one of her clients told her that she has never had a meal that she didn’t enjoy. The client proceeded to write a letter to Meals on Wheels thanking them for delivering such “wonderful and delicious meals” to her every day. In return, the client received flowers from Meals on Wheels.
“She told me this and said, ‘now I feel obligated to send them another thank you letter for the flowers,’” said Schell, who chuckled at the situation.
The program not only provides food to those who need it, but also provides perspective to those serving.
Claire Laging, a first-year student volunteer, started helping this semester every Thursday. She said volunteering gives her an opportunity to give back and see another side of Fort Worth.
“Volunteering for Meals on Wheels has showed me there are more things to worry about in life than tests, papers and projects,” Laging said.
Representatives of Meals on Wheels ask that each volunteer drive a route once a week during lunchtime. Volunteer drivers pick up meals between 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. at a local meal site, usually a church, and deliver them to the clients. The route takes approximately an hour to complete and volunteers deliver to about 16 clients.
Volunteers not only ensure that the homebound elderly and disabled clients receive a nutritious meal and friendly visit, but they also check the safety of the clients.
Jonathan Pham, a member of the Meals on Wheels Student Association, recalls a time when he delivered a meal to an elderly woman who could not answer her door. After knocking a few times, he heard her cry for help. He proceeded to call 911 for the fallen elderly woman.
For some clients it’s peace of mind knowing that someone is checking on them each day but some enjoy the social aspect.
For Helen, an 83-year-old client who asked her last name to not be used, said it’s all about the daily contact.
“I just love all the people I get to see each week,” Helen said. “The volunteers are so good to me and are very friendly people.”
Helen, who moved from New Orleans to Fort Worth to be closer to her sister, said without the help of Meals on Wheels, she would have to live in an assisted living community. The program allows her to live independently without this expense and receive daily meals that she otherwise would not be able to provide on her own.
She said that due to her bad knees it makes it near impossible to walk to a local grocery store and try to prepare a meal for herself each day.
Helen is just one of the many clients served by Meals on Wheels each week.
To donate or volunteer for Meals on Wheels click here.