Meals on Wheels takes hit as gentrification forces clients out of east Austin

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The work starts early at the Meals On Wheels kitchen in east Austin. The team cooks and packages meals for 3,000 elderly people spread across Central Texas who can’t do it for themselves. For many, it’s the only way they can stay out of an assisted living facility.

“Because most of these folks are low income, taxpayers end up picking up the tab,” said Thad Rosenfeld, Vice President of communication for the group in Central Texas.

Meals On Wheels relies almost exclusively on volunteers to deliver those meals. It’s normal for volunteers to drop out when school starts, but this year the shortage has more than doubled other years.

“Up until recently, the vast majority of our clients lived in east Austin and now with the gentrification of east Austin, they’re kind of being dispersed to most corners of the area,” Rosenfeld said as he stood in the middle of the bustling kitchen.

As a result, it’s harder to find drivers for the more far-flung routes. Without enough volunteers, Rosenfeld says Meals on Wheels has to pay a delivery service, using money that could be used for food or other services.

There’s also other stuff people can donate.

“Our clients love the meals, but the visits are almost as important. Our lunches nourish their bodies. Our volunteers nourish their souls,” says Rosenfeld.

In the long term, Meals On Wheels would like to expand so it has facilities across the seven counties they serve. In the short term, they’re looking for people who are willing to help for an hour a week.

Volunteers have to be at least 18 years old, with a driver’s license and be able to deliver meals at lunchtime. Rosenfeld said you can also split the duties with friends.

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