Story by Kristina Hoti
Volunteers for Meals on Wheels in Warwick gathered on Wed., Jun. 7 in the Greenbriar Room at Mount Alverno for a luncheon in their honor. While some work closely together, many of the volunteers were meeting for the first time. Attendees signed in and wore name badges, introducing themselves by name and by the day of the week when they travel throughout Warwick to deliver meals to clients of Meals on Wheels.
Jane Gareiss, Chair of the Board, opened the luncheon with some remarks and then introduced Pastor Michael Otte, of the Warwick Reformed Church.
Rev. Otte thanked the volunteers for their hard work, saying, “On one day a year, you get served.”
He said grace, and a buffet luncheon was served. After lunch, Gareiss spoke again to the group, giving an update of the group’s financial standings and the year’s statistics. She also shared an excerpt from a letter of appreciation that was sent by the sister of a client who received services in 2011.
The letter stated, “It was such a relief to know someone would visit him each day with a meal and a smile…so glad you were there.” Gariess also spoke about new initiatives, including a website that is being developed by Vice Chair Carol O’Malley Levitan. In addition, Mary Sellers, Assistant Volunteers Coordinator, is creating an outreach program called, “Grease the Wheels,” which will focus on education and fundraising efforts within the community.
The organization currently has 115 active volunteers. In 2016, 13,732 meals were delivered to 85 clients by 112 volunteers. The group is organized by the day of the week, with daily captains managing the packaging of meals prepared at the Mount Alverno kitchen as well as the scheduling of volunteers who drive various routes to deliver. Those delivering meals typically work once a month and they take about an hour to deliver their route. About 50 meals are delivered daily.
In operation since 1975, Meals on Wheels has always been a fully volunteer-driven, faith-based mission, having been run by the Ecumenical Council for just over 40 years, until it disbanded two years ago. Without the umbrella of the Ecumenical Council, Meals on Wheels was in danger of losing its tax exempt status and being “homeless.” Rev. Otte stepped forward at that time to offer the Warwick Reformed Church as the new “home” to Meals on Wheels.
All denominations of faith in Warwick participate in this massive effort, with volunteers and organizers from all local churches taking part. Historically, each took one day of the week to run the operation. Today, all faiths mix and volunteers are scheduled regardless of faith affiliation. Meals on Wheels volunteers follow a creed that states, among other things, that “no one should be denied service due to race, creed, gender, or the ability to pay.”
The group is one of only two privately operated programs in this area. As such, it does not receive funding from the Office of the Aging as do the programs that provide services in Greenwood Lake, Pine Island, and Florida. Within the Village of Warwick and extended to where those villages begin, Meals on Wheels is funded only by the nominal charge to clients, donations, and grants.
Warwick clients are offered the choice of receiving just one hot meal per day or one hot and one cold meal. The charge to clients is $3.80 for a hot meal and $2.50 for a cold meal, reflecting a slight increase which takes effect as of Jul. 1 of this year. Rates have been increased only twice in 15 years, as the group strives to operate without allowing the inflation that occurs over time at the grocery store to impact their clients too severely.
Despite the necessary increase, Meals on Wheels firmly stands by its commitment that “no one shall go hungry,” and clients who are unable to pay are offered subsidy options. Clients who receive managed home health care or Medicaid benefits may have the cost fully covered as well.
Meals are prepared fresh daily in the kitchens at the Mount Alverno complex by Morrison Healthcare, which is contracted by Meals on Wheels. In addition to meal deliveries, volunteers from the community have coordinated efforts to add small extra touches for holidays to enhance the lives of clients, many of whom are home-bound. Tray favors like potted plants, flags, and holiday arrangements are added to the deliveries, often provided by groups such as the Girl Scouts, local businesses, churches, and community groups. A birthday card program is also in place.
As the luncheon concluded, new volunteers were asked to share their experiences. Peter Kohlberger spoke about his recent battle with cancer. When he needed transportation back and forth from his treatments, it was difficult to get assistance from the American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery.
“Any time I called them to ask for a ride, they never once got back to me,” said Kohlberger.
He organized his own network of friends and family to assist him, but realized that volunteers were in short supply and was inspired to give back after his recovery.
Another volunteer, Bill Willosch, spoke about the importance of their work, and the impact that it has on the clients every day. “Besides that, it’s fun to do every week!” said Willsoch.
April Ginley, Volunteer Coordinator, is always looking for new volunteers. New volunteers will be fully trained, and must complete an application and submit a letter of recommendation. More information can be obtained by calling 986-3389.