NEWPORT - The Meals on Wheels program, which provides meals to a large segment of the Northeast Kingdom's vulnerable population, is in desperate need of volunteers. Meals on Wheels, part of the Federal Older Americans Act, is coordinated through the Area Agency on Aging. It provides meals to seniors who can’t get out on their own or prepare their own meals.
The elderly, shut-ins, and the disabled, or someone who just can’t cook for themselves any more, can receive their meals from volunteer drivers. Volunteers pick up the healthy, prepared meals from local non-profit or for profit businesses such as a restaurant and delivers them.
The program is funded through the federal government, the state, and through town appropriations. Meal recipients are asked to anonymously donate funds if they are able. However, records are not kept on who or who does not donate.
The Area Agency on Aging serves the entire Northeast Kingdom and all towns need volunteers, however Newport and Derby are in desperate need of volunteers, said Ken Gordon, the Executive Director of the Area Agency on Aging (AAA). Two third of the volunteers are drivers that bring the meals to the recipient homes and the remaining volunteers work at meal sites.
The program is not just about the food, Gordon and AAA board director John Perry said. It’s also about forming relationships with those who are shut-in and checking on them. Volunteers go through some training to learn to recognize the signs of trouble.
A driver observes the recipients just to be sure that they are okay and are not in any kind of trouble. Volunteers look for signs of a problem such as a cold home. If something is discovered, then the driver would help connect the person with the right sources for assistance.
There is a growing trend for the elderly to stay in their homes instead of entering an institution. Meals on Wheels helps allow this to occur, Gordon explained.
“What we hear from the volunteers is that this is one of the most satisfying things you can do. Folks are so happy to see you, and these are people in our community whom you don’t see out on the street,” Gordon said. “The simple thing of bringing a meal turns out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done,” Gordon quoted a volunteer.
Some volunteers have been forced to retire due to illness or other life factors. Gordon said some may want to volunteer but are hesitant about making the commitment. But the volunteer schedule is very flexible, Gordon said. Groups from churches or other organizations or a group of friends can work together and take turns or cover for each other when something comes up. In some areas, business allow for their employees to make deliveries during their work day. Volunteer drivers do receive a mileage reimbursement.
Any interested individuals can call the Area Agency on Aging at 334-2190.