By Casey Cooper
TNCP Community Writer
Since 1974, the Tri-County Office on Aging (TCOA) has served Clinton, Eaton, and Ingham county seniors by connecting them to resources that help them “age in place,” enabling them to remain independent and in their own homes and communities. While not everyone is aware of the multitude of services and programs that TCOA offers, many are familiar with Meals on Wheels. TCOA has managed this volunteer-based nutrition program for older adults and persons with disabilities since the agency began in 1974. Meals on Wheels is arguably TCOA’s most visible program, and yet, it is facing a volunteer shortage crisis that threatens the wellbeing of its nutritionally at-risk participants.
TCOA is so fortunate to have over 1,400 dedicated volunteers delivering meals in tri-county. In 2016, TCOA provided over 503,000 meals to over 3,300 persons in their homes through the Meals on Wheels program and at Senior Dining sites. Seniors rely on the daily delivery of hot, well-balanced meals and the friendly smile and check-in that accompanies them. However, for the first time in agency history, there is a wait list for people needing these meals due to a severe shortage of volunteers, especially in the City of Lansing.
Despite the community’s eagerness to volunteer, the need for meals has risen in such a dramatic way that even 1,400 volunteers cannot keep up. This is due largely in part to the tremendous growth in the 60 and older population. According to data from the United States Census Bureau, since the year 2000, the population of older adults residing in the tri-county area has increased from 59,807 to 85,737. This is an increase of 43%.
The Meals on Wheels Program depends on the time and generosity of the community to drive routes, which typically take about 45 minutes to an hour and can be done anywhere from once a month to every week day between the hours of 10:30am and 1:30pm. Volunteers pick up the meals from a convenient site located near their route before delivery begins. In addition to individuals who deliver meals, TCOA encourages area businesses to adopt routes that can be shared amongst employees over the lunch hour.
Volunteering for Meals on Wheels not only provides a much-needed community service to a population in desperate need, but it is also a rewarding, heartwarming experience for both the volunteer and meal recipient. Several volunteers have shared stories about how the people on their routes have become like family. Besides the joy of delivering something as basic yet necessary as food, volunteers provide a human connection for a person who may not have family of their own, may not be able to leave their home, or otherwise gain social interaction.
Linda Goins, a retired teacher, has been volunteering for Meals on Wheels for over 10 years. She started out by helping a friend who worked downtown deliver. She delivers once a month. One of fondest memories was speaking to a client that was a Tuskeegee Airman.
Goins said, “I could have sat there and listened to him for hours but I had to leave.”
Volunteering to feed the elderly is a rewarding opportunity for Goins. She said people are so appreciatve and sometimes she is the only person that may have visited in days.
“The people that you meet are so sweet. You fall in love with them while doing something worthwhile. I would suggest anyone who is looking for something to do to choose Meals on Wheels, especially if you are retired,” says Goins.
TCOA invites you to consider the great benefits that volunteering for Meals on Wheels provides, and encourages you to apply to volunteer by visiting www.tcoa.org/volunteer or calling 517-887-1440.
Whether you are employed, a stay at home parent, a student, an older adult yourself, or an employer who is interested in adopting a route, we have volunteers like you who make a significant, positive difference every day. It is only through the help of volunteers that TCOA will be able continue our mission to “promote and preserve the independence and dignity of the aging population.”
Casey Cooper, LLMSW, is the Fundraising and Volunteer Specialist at TCOA.
Printed in the March 19, 2017- April 1, 2017 edition