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Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the service that provides food to those who are homebound has increased from 800 to 1,100 central Maine households that regularly receive meals.
HALLOWELL — At 9 a.m. on a recent Friday, Dave Fuller closed his pickup truck’s tailgate and set off from the Cohen Community Center in Hallowell to begin his 70-mile route delivering meals to older adults across central Maine.
Fuller is not just a volunteer dropping off meals to the 11 people he visits each week. He has become someone with whom they can talk, someone who can help them complete necessary tasks, someone on whom they have learned to rely and even someone who can taste test homemade goodies given to him by a woman on his route.
“Last time it was fudge,” said Fuller, who had the container cleaned out and ready to give back to her this week. “Now, it’s meatballs.”
Without Fuller and the other volunteers who donate time to Spectrum Generations’ Meals on Wheels program, it would not be as successful as it is, consistently providing 1,100 meals a week in central Maine.
Fuller has a wide-ranging route, with stops in Vienna, Mount Vernon, Wayne and Fayette.
“Believe it or not,” he said, “this is the short way.” Advertisement
Although the program has a strong, successful volunteer base, its leaders still worry about volunteer fatigue, increasing gas prices and inflation driving up the costs of groceries and other items. While Spectrum Generations reimburses volunteers for the miles they travel, officials said in the future, there might be a pinch when it comes to finding people who are able to help.
“It’s a great feeling that I get to help people who need help, and I get to know them, become friends with them — and I enjoy it,” Fuller said.
Rachael Gerow, the assistant nutrition director, holds a frozen meal taken from a five-pack headed out for delivery Friday at the Spectrum Generations Cohen Community Center in Hallowell. Meals are labeled with the dates they were cooked and frozen. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal
Most of the people who volunteer have done so for several years in a variety of different ways. Fuller and his wife also help people at Spectrum Generations fill out their income taxes.
John Lord has volunteered with Meals on Wheels for 20 years, which began after he retired and thought, “I ought to do something.” He now donates his time Wednesdays and Fridays to pack the meals into the coolers.
Lord was joined by Wilfred Boulger and Dick Godbout, who volunteer alongside Lord each morning.
“It gets us out of the house,” Godbout said, “and it’s a good reason to get up.” Advertisement
Meals on Wheels has existed for more than 50 years, and is funded by the federal government and run through Spectrum Generations. There are five agencies on aging in Maine that offer Meals on Wheels.
Lindsay MacDonald, c ommunity engagement director for Spectrum Generations, said the organization is funded through the state and federal government and must have a large base of volunteers. The organization is also funded through private donations, and for every 25 cents raised, the U.S. government donates $1 in federal money.
Arthur Morgan, left, speaks Friday with Dave Fuller as Morgan receives Meals on Wheels at his house in Mount Vernon. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Meals on Wheels program delivered meals to about 800 households, and had about 300 people on the waiting list.
When the pandemic hit, the program used additional funding to increase its range, and now delivers meals regularly to about 1,100 households.
MacDonald said the program provides about 70,000 meals a year, valued at more than $500,000.
Volunteer driver Dave Fuller takes a Meals on Wheels delivery Friday to a client on his route in rural northwestern Kennebec County. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal
“It increased during the pandemic because people were self-isolating and not going to stores,” said Gerard Queally, president and CEO of Spectrum Generations. “The demand is steady, and I don’t think it will go up significantly, but it won’t go down. We have to maintain this level of service for at least a long time.” Advertisement
Most people who rely on Meals on Wheels are homebound. They do not drive, cannot drive or do not have a vehicle. Some people might be recovering from surgery, or simply cannot afford meals. Fo r those living in certain communities, such as Vienna or Mount Vernon, the closest grocery store can be 15 or 20 miles away.
About 75% of Spectrum Generations’ weekly interactions are through Meals on Wheels volunteers, according to a survey by the organization.
Recipient Gloria Kelley said she is “really enjoying” the program, which allows her to have home-cooked meals. She said she has tried to continue cooking for herself, but has found it difficult given her back problems.
Louise Kilponen, left, laughs Friday with volunteer delivery driver Dave Fuller after he leaves five Meals on Wheels frozen dinners and a bagful of snacks and beverages at her Vienna home. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal
Kelley, whose house is halfway through Fuller’s delivery route, said she learned from a friend how to utilize Meals on Wheels. Before that, Kelley knew of the program, but was unsure how to become involved with it.
“It saves me a lot of work,” said Kelley, who has lived in Vienna since 1944 . “I was struggling to make meals.”
Those involved with Meals on Wheels typically learn of it through word-of-mouth, social workers or information from municipal offices.
Those interested in volunteering should call 207-620-1187 in Greater Augusta or 207-660-9263 in Greater Waterville.
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