Print Meals on Wheels needs more people to help the cause
Written by Mark Lineberger   
Sunday, 13 November 2011 00:00

Nearly every day of the week, dozens of residents across the Verde Valley expect a knock on the door, followed by a hot meal.

For residents who are largely homebound, including many elderly people, the local Meals on Wheels program is an important source of food. For those who live alone, it’s also a chance to interact with another human being.

Ann Swain, a Meals on Wheels volunteer, catches up with Tom Kenny on his way to the library while delivering a Meals on Wheels lunch Thursday,  Nov. 3. Meals on Wheels currently needs at least 10 more volunteers for delivery routes around the Verde Valley, a task Swain said she enjoys because it gets her out of her own house for a short visit with other senior citizens.The program is administered through the Verde Valley Senior Center in Cottonwood, where the kitchen is busy turning out the dish and sides of the day. Last year alone, the kitchen cooked more than 57,000 meals for residents. The meals can be a big help to what the program defines as “nutritionally at-risk senior citizens.”

There’s also the added bonus of filling the bottom floor of the center with a mouthwatering aroma.

Of course, preparing the food is just the first step in the process. Once the meals are packaged, they are loaded into private vehicles by an army of volunteers, who then spread out across the Verde Valley to deliver the food.

These volunteers are critical, and the program is in need of more people willing to step up, said Geri Manzella, volunteer coordinator with the center.

“There’s especially a need in Cottonwood,” Manzella said, where there are 10 open routes in need of volunteers.

Other drivers are needed in places like the Beaver Creek area. Volunteers there don’t have to drive to Cottonwood; instead the food is delivered to a central location so local volunteers don’t have far to go for pickup.

The center isn’t asking for that big of a commitment, only about one hour for one day a week.

Of course, some volunteers choose to work more, like Ann Swain, a remarkably spry octogenarian who delivers her meals with a smile and a delightful French accent.

Loading up the trunk of her sedan, Swain said she recently agreed to work more often during the week to help out with the demand for deliveries.

It’s a job she definitely enjoys.

“I live alone,” Swain said. “And just sitting there, you get depressed. Doing something for someone, it feels good.”

Volunteers get a free meal themselves for their efforts, but Swain said she gives hers away.

“I’ve enjoyed every bit of it,” Swain said.

Swain said she first became involved with the Meals on Wheel program a few years ago when she was looking for an opportunity to volunteer somewhere in the community.

“My neighbors were doing it,” Swain said. “I thought, ‘Oh, that’s fun.’”

Making her rounds, Swain throws in a piece of chocolate candy she provides herself.

Last week, it was a Kit-Kat bar.

“I usually give dark chocolate because dark chocolate is good for you,” Swain said. “But it was Halloween and there was no need to leave this sitting around.”

The people along Swain’s route seem to appreciate her arrival.

“[Ann] has been bringing me [meals] ever since I’ve been here,” said Cottonwood resident Tom Kenny. As for the food itself, Kenny said that it has always been “excellent.”

The Verde Valley Senior Center whips up around 225 to 250 meals on a regular day, said Michele Stone, an administrative assistant at the center.

About 70 percent of those are delivered through the Meals on Wheels program, Stone said.

The food is cooked in accordance with guidelines prepared by a nutritionist hired by the Northern Arizona Council of Governments, Stone said.

NACOG also provides funding for the program and approves applications from people who want to have the meals delivered to their door.

Stone said that anyone with a vehicle is welcome to volunteer, but potential volunteers should realize that recent changes in regulations require submission to a Level 1 fingerprint background check, in part due to the nature of the work.

For information on how to volunteer, call the senior center at 634-5450.