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REAL Services’s Meals On Wheels Program Has Urgent Need For Volunteers

REAL Services is dedicated to helping elderly and low-income people become and stay independent for life. If you or someone you love needs help, call REAL Services at 574-233-8205.

By: REAL ServicesHome Comfort Experts

George Hawthorne wasn’t expecting to find himself urgently needing volunteers to deliver meals.

“We’ve been planning to go back to the five-day-a-week delivery for a while, but unfortunately a lot of people said, ‘no, we’re not coming back,’” he says. “It’s put a little pressure on us to find new volunteers, because we’re returning to our original delivery schedule on Aug. 2. So, we need folks right away!”

Hawthorne is the Director of Nutrition/Transportation at REAL Services. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the decision was made to reduce the number of delivery days for the Meals on Wheels program as a precaution to keep volunteers and clients safe, he says.

REAL Services recently conducted a survey of their clients, and found that more than 70% of respondents are vaccinated. Coupled with the fact that COVID-19 case numbers are decreasing in the region, the decision was made to start returning to delivering meals five days a week.

“Being back to five days a week gives our volunteers the opportunity to have more interactions with our clients. That way we can see them a little more often and check on them,” Hawthorne says. “It also lets us deliver hot meals instead of the cold meals that we’ve been doing. People appreciate having a fresh, hot meal versus a meal that’s packaged and cooled down that they have to microwave to enjoy.”

Meals on Wheels delivers to people across St. Joseph and Elkhart counties in Indiana. Normally, they have about 100 volunteers helping out with the program, but they’re down to about 70 at the moment. They have an immediate need to fill 30 volunteer positions in St. Joseph County and 8 positions in Elkhart County.

Hawthorne says their volunteers run the gamut of retirees, to mothers who take their young children with them, to businesses.

“Meals on Wheels is a great opportunity for businesses to partner and volunteer,” he says. “A business can take on a route or two and then they can rotate staff members in and out as they have availability.”

Routes are designed to take one hour or less to deliver meals, according to Hawthorne. However, some of the rural routes can take a little longer. The amount of stops ranges from 8 to 20, depending on the route.

“The best part about volunteering with Meals on Wheels is talking with the people we’re delivering food to,” Hawthorne says. “There’s just so much knowledge and history that a lot of our older clients have to share.”

Those visits are a critical part of what Meals on Wheels does, and Hawthorne is eager to get back to doing it daily.

“Our volunteers pay a lot of attention to the safety and wellbeing of the clients on their route,” he says. “Being able to have that daily check-in with our clients helps us make sure they’re safe. If we see something going on, we’re able to call family members or emergency contacts and help make sure that client is safe and able to live independently in their own home.”

People and businesses interested in volunteering for Meals on Wheels can go online to REAL Services website and fill out a volunteer application. After an application has been processed, volunteers will receive an orientation to REAL Services and training for the Meals on Wheels program.

REAL Services is prioritizing volunteer applications because of the urgent need. The process to become a volunteer for Meals on Wheels should only take a couple of days, according to Hawthorne.

Hawthorne says Meals on Wheels can accommodate volunteer schedules for any day of the week.

“If someone wants to come one day a week, that’s fine,” he says. “But if they have more time they can do two or three days. We can use them for any openings that we have. It’s totally up to their availability.”

You can help REAL Services deliver meals to area residents in need by volunteering with Meals On Wheels. Fill out a volunteer application online to get started.

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