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Meals on Wheels is hungry for volunteers
Steve Watson makes a stop along his route and fills a basket with food items during his Meals on Wheels route through Gainesville.

How to volunteer

What: One-hour training sessions
When: 2 p.m. every Wednesday
Where: Gainesville Community Service Center, 430 Prior St. SE

A small picnic basket of food and the effort behind it has renewed Mattie Carol Lee’s faith in humanity.

“You guys have been great,” she said, the first stop on Meals on Wheels’ route 8. “You’ve taken a load off me.”

Steve Watson, Hall County chief appraiser, unloads her Mexican fare — rice, tortilla, fajita chicken, beans, lettuce, tomato and sour cream — from the basket, a service he does every other week.

It’s a godsend for Lee, she said, because of her amputated leg.

“I can’t do a lot of cooking,” she said. “I can’t be on this leg too long.”

Driving around on route 8 during his lunchtime, Watson has worked with Meals on Wheels for the past few years. After moving back to Gainesville in April 2011, he looked for a way to get involved in the community and became interested in Meals on Wheels.

“I was looking for something more meaningful to do,” Watson said.

Every other week, he works with the program, which has a dearth of volunteers.

Phillippa Lewis Moss, Gainesville community service center director, said the organization is in desperate need of 50 volunteers.

“It is an opportunity to give back to a generation of people who have given tons to our community,” she said. “We frequently give back to individuals who have fought in wars, individuals who have served our government and schools in a variety of positions and individuals that have been homemakers and have been the foundation of our neighborhoods and communities.”

After dropping off food for Lee, the next stop is Geraldine Roper, who has been receiving meals for several years.

“If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know what I would do,” she said.

The emotional connection, Watson said, makes it all rewarding. Leaving the stress of work, a moment clicked in his head when he discovered the value of reaching out to another person.

“By the time I got over here, the impact that these people had on my life was overwhelming,” Watson said. “I cried like a baby.”

Moss wished to dispel notions that volunteers must work every single day. Some work every day, and some work once a month, but Moss said she believes volunteers serving every week see greater enjoyment.

“We are open to one and all,” Moss said.

The route wraps around 10 residents, with a majority of them older residents.

Etheleen Kilgore, who turns 97 this week, is happy for the help.

“I don’t have to cook,” she said with a dry wit.

On each stop, Watson interacts with each meal recipient, talking about a son in New Mexico or a husband recuperating in the hospital.

An added reward in working with the organization, Moss said, is learning from past generations.

“It’s very interesting to be around older adults who have lived through the Depression or who have seen technology change over the years and have seen political restructuring around the world,” she said. “It’s very fascinating to hear their thoughts and opinions and get a sense of how they see the world.”

For those who are interested in joining, a weekly, one-hour training session is held at the community service center on Wednesdays at 2 p.m. For larger groups, appointments can be made to have staff meet with volunteers at another location. The community service center is at 430 Prior St.