For many people in the Alberni Valley, eating three square meals a day is a given. But what if you were suddenly incapacitated by injury, illness or age?
That’s where Meals-on-Wheels steps in.
The volunteer service provides meals to seniors, people who have been discharged from the hospital or those who because of a disability are unable to cook for themselves. They have even helped families in crisis over the short term.
“We deliver over 1,000 meals a month,” co-ordinator Janet Buchanan said. She usually has 35 drivers covering seven delivery routes, five days a week, 52 weeks a year. Routes are generally half an hour long.
Drivers are encouraged to spend a bit of time with the clients before leaving. “We consider it to be a welfare check for clients,” Buchanan said. “The driver gets to know the client; they have to sign in and report the condition of the client.”
Clients average 75 years old. They can use the service for a week or, in one case, a decade. People are often referred to Meals-on-Wheels through the Integrated Health Network, or through word of mouth to Buchanan and other volunteers.
For many years the organization has seen little turnover in its legion of drivers. However, many are retiring or having to give up their volunteering—and with winter vacations coming up, they’re stretched too thin, Buchanan said.
“Some of them are also seniors so they find the walking or the stairs or the winter too hard to do deliveries.”
So she’s looking for drivers who can take over full routes, are available all week or just for a shift or two here and there. She has a spare list too.
Drivers must have a valid driver’s licence, be willing to have a criminal record check done by the RCMP and will be given an orientation on one or more routes.
Meals-on-Wheels does not cover fuel costs, although Petro-Canada owner Shirley Mallory donates gift certificates for gas for the drivers, Buchanan said.
Ellen Lacharity has been driving with Meals on Wheels for six years, and appreciates the interaction with people.
“The clients are really appreciative and it’s nice to have the contact there every day,” she said.
Wendy Telford, owner of Alberni Deli-icious, which cooks the meals, has done a little bit of everything with Meals-on-Wheels—even driving. She and her deli employees make 40-50 meals per day, and 60-65 on Fridays to cover the weekend.
“We’ve almost doubled our clientele since we started,” she said. There are more people requiring the food service seven days a week as well.
It’s a big commitment for Telford, who has been at it for at least a dozen years, but she says it’s a group effort at her restaurant. And they’re all caring staff.
“It’s a community thing,” she said. “It’s not a money thing. There’s definitely a need in the Valley for looking after our elderly.”