More urged to step up to plate to help deliver ‘Meals on Wheels’

Heather Latter

Given the aging population in Fort Frances, programs such as “Meals on Wheels” need more volunteers if they want to continue to serve the community.
Fortunately, local co-ordinator Gaby Hanzuk has seen some new volunteers getting on board recently, although she’d like even more businesses and organizations to get involved.
“We’re always looking for volunteers,” she remarked, noting the program, which delivers meals to local seniors and others who aren’t able to cook for themselves, has seen a decline in help over the years.
Members of local churches, service groups, and sororities have donated their time since the “Meals on Wheels” program began here more than 40 years ago. But many of these groups also are struggling to maintain their own enrolment as the ages of their members continues to increase.
“It’s a worthwhile program,” Hanzuk stressed. “Until we get assisted living in this community . . . we can’t afford to lose any of our existing services.
“With are older population in Fort Frances getting bigger, cutting services would be going in the complete opposite direction of what we need,” she warned.
That’s why Hanzuk hopes more businesses will step up to the plate.
“I think people shy away from it because they think it’s a monstrous commitment and it’s really not,” she noted.
Staff at St. Michael’s School, for instance, helped deliver “Meals on Wheels” last year after one of the teachers suggested it.
“We just buddied up and did it for a week, taking turns doing a different day of the week and it made you feel good,” said school secretary Teresa McFayden.
“It was easy to do,” she added. “It was very well-organized and it takes no time at all.
“I don’t even think it took us an hour.”
St. Michael’s staff is planning on volunteering again in the new year—and, in fact, have challenged St. Francis School staff to get on board, too.
“Social justice is one of the parameters of Catholic character development,” explained St. Michael’s principal Brendan Hyatt on why school staff should volunteer for the “Meals on Wheels” program.
“It’s important to get involved in the community at all levels,” he stressed. “The shut-ins, they need support just like everyone else.
“Someday that could be us, right?”
Hyatt added he feels as role models to the students in the school, the staff should “do unto others” and set a good example.
Meanwhile, staff here at the Fort Frances Times recently stepped up and will start off the new year volunteering for the program.
“I think it’s a great idea to get businesses involved,” agreed office manager Linda Plumridge, who has helped out with “Meals on Wheels” for years through her church and sorority groups.
“Not every businesses has the staff or availability to do it,” she conceded. “But those that have enough staff, and can allow two people to leave at 4 p.m., should sign up.”
Plumridge said she was very pleased with the response from the Times’ staff when they were approached about volunteering.
“We didn’t have a problem finding people,” she noted. “Most people were quite willing to participate.”
Plumridge indicated there will be a number of people volunteering for the program who have never delivered before, and some who haven’t delivered meals for a very long time.
“You feel good about doing it, and you know these seniors are not only getting a nutritious meal but are also getting a bit of social interaction that they might not get otherwise,” she reasoned.
The Times’ staff already has volunteered to deliver meals for two weeks, with Plumridge adding they’re hoping to fill more weeks throughout the year.
“A lot of us know someone who gets it [‘Meals on Wheels’], your parents or your grandparents, and you have more appreciation for it,” said Lisa Plourde of the Royal Bank here.
“Afterwards, we all felt so great being able to visit with them and hand them a meal.
“And it didn’t take that much out of your time.”
Plourde got the local bank branch involved in the program after seeing her grandparents receive meals in Thunder Bay. She had read an article about the program in the Times and suggested it to her co-workers.
“It was pretty receptive around the branch,” she remarked, noting they had eight staff members volunteer.
And while they only had a chance to deliver meals once last year, they are planning to fill at least another week in the spring.
Brenda Tullio of the Ear Clinic here, along with her staff, also have volunteered for the “Meals on Wheels” program over the past few years.
“It’s a great experience,” she enthused. “The people are so appreciative of the help and it’s just really fulfilling to help out with that program.”
She even has taken her own kids along to help deliver the meals and they’ve enjoyed it.
“The older folks love to chat with the kids,” she noted.
Tullio also sees it as an excellent way to give back to the community, and recommends other businesses and organizations contribute their time.
“There’s a huge need for volunteers and it’s a great way to help out,” she reasoned. “It’s not a huge time investment yet the fulfillment at the other end is just awesome.”
Hanzuk stressed she always is looking for new volunteers and hopes some of the other local businesses consider getting involved.
She estimated the time commitment each day to deliver meals is up to an hour. It starts with picking up the trays at the back of Rainycrest, then following the given route to drop them off.
Currently there are two routes, with about 10 meals to deliver per route.
Individuals can volunteer their time and be added to her list, who then would be called sporadically over the course of the year whenever help is needed.
“Our mandate is the shut-ins,” she explained. “People who really can’t get out and about to do their own shopping or even to stand up in their own kitchens and cook their own meals.
“I’m finding as time goes on that it’s really not about how old you are. It has more to do with how disabled you are.”
As well, “Meals on Wheels” will deliver to people coming out of the hospital—recovering from such things as hip replacements and fractured legs or arms.
“It’s been really a major part of our older adult programs,” Hanzuk remarked. “Some [programs] have come and gone, but ‘Meals on Wheels’ is still here and there’s a reason for that because people really do need to eat, and they need to eat properly, especially when they get older.”
Pointing to the recent call by community members for assisted living units here, Hanzuk said a program like “Meals on Wheels” can help seniors stay in their homes for as long as possible.
“It’s really important that we work together, as a community, to ensure our parents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, whoever in their golden years, that they’re happy ones,” she stressed.
It also helps to give families a sense of security and safety when it comes to members who are registered for the program, Hanzuk added.
Those interested in volunteering their time for “Meals on Wheels” can contact Hanzuk, who works from home generally from 8 a.m.-1 p.m., at 274-3764.