Meal on Wheels and More has been operating for almost 40 years in Austin, with the goal of promoting “diginity and independence for senior citizens."
“We don’t want food insecurity to be a factor in forcing someone out of the home,” explains Director of Communications, Thad Rosenfeld. For about $2,200, MOWAM can deliver food to a senior for a whole year — but that can only happen with the help of their several thousand volunteers.
Sometimes delivery is just a simple drop-off, but many volunteers take time to talk to the clients on their route. Volunteers check in and see if the clients need anything, like repairs around the home, which can then be reported to the agency and taken care of by their many other departments. Often, the volunteers are the only people the client sees all day, and a friendly face for a few minutes can really make a difference.
As Rosenfeld puts it: “We’re not just delivering a hot nutritious meal, we’re also delivering hope and friendship.”
Austin’s senior citizen population is on the rise, which makes MOWAM's mission even more important. The organization is only getting bigger and volunteers are always needed, especially around the holidays. Interacting with the elderly may not be in everyone’s comfort zone, but MOWAM has many different volunteer areas (hence the "More").
Thinking about getting started? Here are just a few of the different programs you can be a part of:
If you’re good around the house: The Handy Wheels program goes out once a month to complete work orders that fix or improve a client’s home. Tasks could include changing a light bulb or installing a grab bar in the shower. There’s also the Home Repair Program which deals with larger projects like building a ramp or repairing a hole in the roof.
If you’re a talker or a listener: Care Calls provides a phone call once or twice a week just to chat with a homebound client. This program is a great option if you want to help out but do not have a car.
If you don’t mind grocery stores: Groceries to Go is a program that only requires your time twice a month. Volunteers take clients to the grocery store or if the client cannot go leave the house they pick up groceries from a list — it’s simple, yet helpful.
If you are a pet lover: The P.A.L.S program delivers cat or dog food to senior citizens with pets; they also aid in making sure pets get vet care when needed.
If you’re a hostess or entertainer: Mike’s Place provides respite relief for caregivers of Alzheimer’s and other types of memory loss and dementia patients. Every Wednesday afternoon a hot lunch and entertainment are provided to patients while the caregivers get a small break. If you enjoy serving, leading activities or entertaining, there are volunteer opportunities for you.
If you want to shop: In conjunction with Home Instead and Walgreens, Christmas presents can be purchased for elderly in need through the Senior Santa program. Many requests are modest, for items like socks and blankets. “These are people that grew up in the depression and really don’t expect a whole lot,” says Rosenfeld. “But what they need, they really need.” In area Walgreens, there are bins in the cosmetic department with paper ornaments that represent a specific senior and their wishlist. Presents can be dropped off, unwrapped, at any area Walgreens as well.
If you want to go the classic Meals on Wheels route: Meals on Wheels makes it simple to get started. To begin, you need to view a thirty minute orientation video—no long classes or training sessions. MOWAM also offer short shifts, so you can deliver on your lunch break. Chlidren are also welcome to accompany parents on their route — in fact, it can be a treat for the clients. “You talk about something that really brightens the day of a senior citizen, that is it,” Rosenfeld points out.
If you're super busy and just want to give few bucks to a great cause? Donate online here.
I feel lucky to have toured MOWAM and met their wonderful staff. Before I left, I asked Rosenfeld if he had any stories that really made him smile from his time at MOWAM. He told me that recently, they had to start a waiting list for meal delivery because of the overwhelming demand. When a local client heard that, she volunteered to give up her meal so someone else could have it. “It’s the selfless actions like that,” Rosenfeld says. “Here’s someone who had very little to give, yet they wanted to give.”