AUSTIN (KXAN) — Groups like Meals on Wheels see a spike in volunteers on Christmas and Thanksgiving, but the days surrounding the holidays are more difficult to staff, though the need remains the same.
“It’s not uncommon for some of our dedicated volunteers to have to take the day off,” said Thad Rosenfeld, vice president for communications for Meals on Wheels Central Texas. “Those meals still have to get delivered.”
The nonprofit delivers 3,000 meals to home-bound seniors each day, 95% of which are dropped off by volunteers, saving the organization about $3 million a year. When there aren’t enough volunteers — as the group forecasts for Monday and Tuesday next week — paid staffers pick up the slack, taking funds from other programs and services.
A shortage of volunteers this year has brought the need into focus. The main Meals on Wheels hub is in east Austin, and as that area becomes more expensive, older adults are forced to move farther outside the city, and some volunteers are reluctant to take on the longer lunchtime routes.
Rosenfeld doesn’t see that changing much in 2020.
“We are going to be having to start routes in areas probably where we’ve never had to deliver before,” he said.
Training new volunteers
Dave Saxon and his wife have been delivering meals to seniors around Austin for nine years now.
“Some of our best friends are our clients out here,” Saxon said Tuesday as he and his family loaded up bags of hot meals and other essentials to take to homes around the city.
Saxon’s granddaughters often come along on the trips, and he’s teaching them what he’s learned about what the process means to clients and to volunteers.
“We feel like we’re doing a little bit of good for them,” he explained. “We know they’re doing a lot of good for us.”
The meal delivery service, which happens every business day and some major holidays, is important for seniors like Gene Lopez, an east Austinite who’s relied on Meals on Wheels for four years.
“We can save money to pay for medicines and everything we need,” Lopez said Tuesday after receiving his hot meals. “It’s nice what they’re doing for the community.”
The next generation of volunteers is going to be even more important in years to come.
“By virtue of the fact that the Austin-Round Rock area has the second-fastest growing senior population in the country, the demand for our services is only going to increase,” Rosenfeld said.
How to help
Meals on Wheels Central Texas has distribution sites all over the area, so volunteers don’t have to commit to long drives.
New volunteers can start delivering meals after a short training that can be completed the same day, Rosenfeld said. The organization will likely need new volunteers early next week to fill in for regulars whose holiday schedules prevent them from completing their routes.