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Published: Monday, 9/3/2012

Mobile Meals Toledo hungry for volunteers

Agency says delivery-driver ranks thinning

BY KELLY McLENDON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Annette Clark, director of Family Service of Northwest Ohio, delivers a meal to Barbara Lambert at the Renaissance Senior Apartments in Toledo. Mobile Meals is looking for at least 50 volunteers. Annette Clark, director of Family Service of Northwest Ohio, delivers a meal to Barbara Lambert at the Renaissance Senior Apartments in Toledo. Mobile Meals is looking for at least 50 volunteers.
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Mobile Meals Toledo is in "crisis mode" in volunteer numbers, said Carolyn Fox, the program's associate executive director.

"To be honest, it's an across-the-nation problem," she said, citing the organization's shortage of volunteers to fill daily delivery routes.

When volunteers -- usually older adults -- quit the program, Mobile Meals has a difficult time attracting replacements, Ms. Fox said.

"We have to do a better job of attracting the volunteers -- maybe reaching out to universities. … We have to do a better job at getting out there and getting the younger population," she said. "We are kind of in a desperation point."

Mobile Meals volunteers typically are asked to help about twice a month, for two hours total. They drive their own vehicles and pick up food at six sites citywide.

"They pick up the meals, follow the route sheet, deliver their routes. … They call us when they're done and go back to the office," she said, adding that some clients receive one meal a day, and others receive three.

Ms. Fox said the work typically takes up a lunch hour, making it the perfect activity for corporate volunteering projects. About 50 firms, called corporate-care companies, allow their employees a slightly longer lunch hour to deliver the meals, she said.

"It's not asking the company to give any money," she said.

Mobile Meals clients usually are referred over the phone. A client, a doctor, a planner at a hospital or care facility -- just about anyone can call in and ask for meal delivery.

"We don't have any age restriction or income restriction. We serve everybody that has a need for help with meal preparation," she said.

Some clients may be elderly and cannot cook anymore; other clients simply need help staying on reduced-sodium or low-fat diets and find that Mobile Meals is an easy way to do this, Ms. Fox said.

Clients also get to choose what they are served, which is something the program has started doing only in the last year and a half.

"We do accept allergies," Ms. Fox said. "We do allow our clients to choose their main entree. It kind of gives them decision-making authority. The clients love it."

Many volunteers have found that working with the clients can be rewarding.

Carol Smith, who participates in the program through her employer, Family Service of Ohio, said the interaction with the clients depends on their situations.

"We go to each recipient and now we have to have them sign for the delivery, so that's kinda nice -- we get a little more contact with them. They count on this," she said.

Ms. Smith describes the strength of one of her elderly clients. "She takes oxygen and she's in a wheelchair most of the time. She's just such a sweetie," she said, adding that the client always carries in her own meal bag.

"I always ask if I can take it in," Ms. Smith said. "She's like 'No, no, I'll take it.' She's just real sweet, and the time you spend with them varies, depending on what's going on in their lives."

Ms. Smith said that as a volunteer, the time commitment is simple.

"They make it so easy. It's really an easy way to volunteer a lunch hour. You can do it in the middle of your day," she said.

Ms. Fox has set lofty goals for upping the organization's volunteer base.

"You can't sit on your laurels about volunteering. It's something we have to be out promoting," she said.

She hopes to recruit about 50 more volunteers. In the West Toledo and Sylvania area, there is a need for volunteers at the Medical Mutual pick-up site on Sylvania Avenue near Talmadge Road. To learn more about volunteering for Mobile Meals, contact Carolyn Fox at 419-255-7806 or email her at cfox@mobilemeals.org.



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