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More wheels mean more meals

Service needs volunteers

POSTED: April 13, 2008 5:01 a.m.
TOM REED/The Times

Milon Christman, Meals on Wheels Coordinator, loads meals for delivery.

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Every weekday, Meals on Wheels delivers some 400 meals to Hall County seniors, but the program’s coordinator said more meals could be delivered with more volunteers.

Milon Christman, coordinator of Gainesville-Hall County Meals on Wheels, said the program currently has about 225 volunteers who commit various amounts of time, from delivering meals once a month to several times a week. He said the program needs about 40 to 50 more volunteers delivering meals about twice a month.

"The volunteer pool is not sufficient to handle that kind of demand," he said. "There are still about 60-plus people on a waiting list that an increase in the pool of volunteers would help reduce."

Christman said he thinks some potential volunteers may be dissuaded by the high price of gas.

"One of the things we’re working against is the perception that gas prices make it prohibitive to deliver meals. Obviously, it’s more of a material contribution than it used to be, because gas is more expensive, but you don’t use that much gas. You don’t run that much mileage," Christman said. "Running a meal route actually costs less than a large cup of coffee at one of the popular coffee spots in town. The perception is just wrong."

Gainesville Mayor Myrtle Figueras, who delivered meals on March 19 in conjunction with the program’s Mayor’s Day, agreed that gas prices shouldn’t be a concern for people interested in volunteering.

"The giving of one’s self is worth so much more than gas prices," Figueras said. "If everyone would spend $10 a week to help someone, they would get so much more in return than that $10. You can’t worry about gas prices."

Christman also explained that not all routes are long. While some of the rural routes may be as much as 20 miles, most routes average about eight miles, he said. One route is even done on foot each day.

Also, mileage is tax-deductible, and Christman said Meals on Wheels gives volunteers supporting documents to file for that deduction.

"There is a real write-off involved. I wouldn’t say that’s an incentive or a reason why people do it, but it’s a nice way to defray the slight increase in cost of the gasoline," Christman said.

Figueras said she feels volunteers also benefit from helping others.

"I wish that everybody would consider volunteering one hour a week ... and if we could consider volunteering one hour a week to help somebody else, all of our lives would be blessed," she said.

Flowery Branch Mayor Diane Hirling, who delivers meals on Mayors’ Day each year, said Meals on Wheels is needed.

"It’s not just delivering the meals, it’s also checking on the elderly to be sure they are OK, especially those who are alone," she said. "A lot of people live alone or have no one to take care of them and at least (the) Meals on Wheels (volunteer) is one person they’re going to see that day."

Hirling said the people she delivered meals to were very happy to see her "not because the mayor came, but because of the meal."

Stella Rowden, a Hall County senior citizen who has been getting Meals on Wheels for two years, said she looks forward to the daily visit.

"The volunteers that come to my home are such precious people," Rowden said. "Some days that’s the only people that a lot of us see. ... I’ve talked to others (seniors who get the meals) at different times and heard them say the same thing. If they didn’t see the people that brings the Meals on Wheels, some days they wouldn’t see anyone at all."

Rowden, who recently had hip surgery, said the volunteers who deliver her meals also help in little ways, such as bringing in mail.

Rowden said she was thrilled by a special treat for Meals on Wheels clients last weekend.

Though deliveries typically are only on weekdays, seniors got a hot meal delivered on Saturday courtesy of Chick-fil-A. The delivery was part of last weekend’s Great Day of Service coordinated by First United Methodist Church in Gainesville.

"That was very nice," Rowden said of the meal. "The couple and the little girl that came to bring it was so sweet, it was a joy to meet them."

Christman said he approached the local restaurant about donating meals and was very thankful for the donation.

"When the letter came to us about the potential projects for the Great Day of Service, it was just something I thought might be a good trilogy: Putting together a business, a faith-based organization and a government agency because I think those three resources can solve a lot of problems in our society and this is just a good experiment and a good exhibition of those resources," Christman said.

The requirements for being a Meals on Wheels volunteer are: have a valid driver’s license, pass a background check and commit to at least one hour a month. Open orientation is held every Wednesday at 2 p.m at the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center at 430 Prior St.

For more information, call 770-503-3330. The program also accepts donations, which are used strictly to buy meals.



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