Local Meals on Wheels program in dire need of volunteers; here’s how to help

Published 12:26 am Wednesday, March 15, 2023

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The Meals on Wheels program goes far beyond just delivering food.

“This is a necessary program for so many people who are mostly homebound or straight-up shut in,” said Director Na’omi Keith. “With food costs being what they are and gas prices… and to top it all off, they’re not able to get out of the house. It’s a necessity for their health. It’s a necessity for human contact.”

But it’s a necessity unavailable to a number of those in need due to a shortage of volunteers.

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“It’s been active since 1972 with the United Board of Missions, and it’s also not only providing food for the elderly; it is also a wellness check for some people that don’t have the opportunity to get out of their homes,” said Debbie Perkins, UMB executive director. “It brightens their day to see delivery people come to their door, say hello and bring a hot meal. We could further our program if we could get volunteers to help us.”

Volunteers work in one of two areas — kitchen and drivers.

Those in the kitchen work directly with the cook, Keith said, and must have a food handler’s license. However, UMB will help pay for that. Hours are 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays.

Drivers begin at 10 a.m. and must have all meals on their route delivered by 12:15 p.m. Although they receive a bit more training, as they become the bond between the client and UMB.

“Our clients like their person,” Keith said. “They like seeing their volunteers. They like talking with them.”

And in some instances, she added, volunteers meet the clients family and, in a sense, become an extended part of it.

“I’ve been blessed to deliver on all of my routes except for one,” Keith said. “I have either met personally or talked on the phone with 98 percent of my clients. It’s always so nice to get to know them a bit. We always want to have those chats.”

UMB is in need of at least eight volunteers to bring the program where it needs to be and help eliminate waiting lists.

“That would cover the open spot I currently have on one of my routes,” Keith said. “It would cover the Port Neches route I need to create because I have enough people on the waiting list for it. It would help fill all of the clientele.”

UMB delivers weekly to Port Arthur, Groves, Nederland and Port Neches.

“My volunteers say nothing but delightful things about the people they serve,” Keith said. “It’s such an honor to be able to get to know them. And with the United Board of Missions being a Christian organization, it’s really important to me when I have my volunteers together that we pray over the food and over our clients.”

Perkins said they’re experiencing a high level of requests for services.

“It’s not very time-consuming but the time that I spent makes a world of difference,” Keith said.

According to information from Meals on Wheels America, approximately 9 million senior citizens in the U.S. struggle with hunger, 15 million are isolated and 18 million live below or near poverty level. The current number of senior citizens is projected to double by 2050.

Meals on Wheels serves more than 2.4 million people across the country.

To volunteer locally, call 409-748-9948 or email MOW@UnitedMissions.org.

Are you a dietician?

The Meals on Wheels program is also in dire need of a registered dietician, as the state requires all menus be approved by one. To volunteer, call the number provided above.