Meals on Wheels provides for house-bound Vineyarders


Meals on Wheels (MOW) is looking for a few volunteer drivers.

A route doesn’t take very long, only an hour or two one day per week, and it isn’t at all hard to do. A volunteer picks up a cooler of food at the hospital around 10:30 am and delivers lunches to a dozen or so clients. For someone with a flexible schedule, such as a retiree, it’s an easy and satisfying way to be of service to the community.

About 28 volunteers deliver an average of 400 to 450 nutritionally balanced meals every week to 75 home-bound seniors all over Martha’s Vineyard. Most of the drivers are seniors themselves. Many have been driving for MOW for many years, but new volunteers are always needed.

Tom Hiller, a retired advertising account executive and public relations specialist, has been driving for MOW for about fifteen years. Tom also helps Armen Hanjian at the Island Food Pantry and Alden Besse with the annual CROP Walk. “You wouldn’t expect to find hunger on this Island, with all the wealth that’s here,” Tom told The Times a few years ago, “but it’s here, and it’s a serious problem.”

Tom says there are three reasons to become a volunteer driver: “It’s needed. It’s fun. And you meet interesting people.”

Meals on Wheels is part of the nutrition program of Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Islands. The meals are planned to provide a minimum of one-third of the daily nutrients recommended for older adults. The menu is the same as the luncheon served at the senior centers in Tisbury, Edgartown, and up-Island.

For MOW’s home-bound clients, the meal is usually their main meal of the day. Some clients also get frozen meals to heat up on weekend days and holidays, when there are no deliveries. Special accommodations are made for clients with food allergies or other specific needs.

Each meal comes in a tray with three compartments — something like a TV dinner. The tray can be heated in a microwave or a regular oven. The client also gets a slice of bread or a muffin, a half-pint carton of milk, and a dessert or a piece of fruit (diabetic clients always get fruit).

The main and side dishes have no added salt and are seasoned sparingly. Clients who like well-seasoned food would be well advised to keep a shaker of something they like on the table. The bread is always fresh, the desserts are often very good, and a carton of milk is a carton of milk.

There is no charge for MOW. Clients are asked for a donation of two dollars per meal, but it is nobody’s business whether they pay anything at all. Drivers are instructed not to report who pays and who doesn’t.

The actual cost of a meal is about $7. It turns out that clients here and on the Cape pay an average of a little over one dollar per meal or six percent of the total cost of the program. The rest is paid by state and federal programs, and by grants and gifts.

Service with a smile

While good nutrition is the reason for MOW, the food itself is not the whole story. Clients also get a few moments of human contact, and many say they look forward to the drivers’ visits. Because there are other clients waiting for their lunch, it’s not possible to stay very long at any stop. However, there is time for a short exchange, and if there is a real problem, to note it and later find someone to help.

MOW drivers are not supposed to perform other services for clients, but many drivers stretch the rules to mail a letter or reach down an object from a high shelf. As long as doing a favor doesn’t delay lunch for clients farther along the route, most drivers will help out when they can, despite the rules, or go back later. Some clients and drivers have formed long-standing friendships.

On a more serious note, MOW drivers may actually save lives. If the client seems ill, the MOW driver calls Elder Services or, in a real emergency, 911. If a client doesn’t answer the door and the door is locked, the driver notifies Elder Services on his or her return to the hospital, and Elder Services calls the emergency contact number on file for each client. If the contact person is unavailable, Elder Services notifies the communications center, which will send a policeman to investigate. Many seniors who live alone have a relative or a friend who checks on them daily, but MOW is one more human contact, one more member of the community looking out for home-bound seniors.

Clients invariably say thank you, and many of them repeat over and over how much the service means to them. It is a very satisfying job.

MOW needs new drivers, both year-round and seasonal, either to take over routes or to substitute when volunteers must miss their day. When MOW is shorthanded, as it is when drivers are ill or away, Elder Services staff drive the routes, sometimes more than one, which means that lunch may be late for some clients.

To learn how to volunteer for MOW, or to request the service, call 508-693-4393. Heather Fauteux is the program coordinator.