Volunteers who provide life-saving support for Alexandria's elderly and house bound through Senior Services of Alexandria's "Meals On Wheels" program were recognized for their efforts during a reception last month in the community room of St. Joseph's Catholic Church.
"The biggest challenge we face is to get people to recognize that there is a need and then to get them to volunteer," said Brenda Walls, the new program director for Meals On Wheels. "We have about 100 volunteers and we could use at least another 100."
Two volunteers cover each delivery route with eight routes per day. This calls for a contingent of 80 volunteers each week. "An ideal number of volunteers would be approximately 300 so that we are covered when volunteers go on vacation, get sick, who have a spouse or family member needing their care," Walls said.
OPERATING FROM Monday through Friday, volunteers deliver approximately 110 to 115 meals each day with each recipient receiving two meals, one being a hot meal, according to Walls. Each volunteer team consists of a driver and a person delivering the meals.
"This program enables many people to remain in their own homes and be independent," Walls said.
Noting that most of the 60-plus volunteers present at the event were seniors themselves, Walls said, "In many instances this is really a program of seniors helping senior. Most of our teams are retired people."
However, she did point out that some were not present because they were working. "It would be nice if more employers would let their people go for two hours a month to be volunteers in this effort. Two who do that are Burke and Herbert Bank and Weichert Realtors," she said.
Most teams perform their task one day a month for two hours in the morning from 10:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Within the last year the number of those receiving meals has increased from 85 to a maximum of 115 per day.
"Many of Alexandria's homebound seniors suffer from isolation. Lack of anyone to talk to or interact with has proven to contribute to a senior's decline in health," said Eileen Longstreet, executive director, Senior Services of Alexandria.
"FOR MANY, this once-a-day interaction with a volunteer is the only break in that isolation. For those who live alone and are also hard of hearing, the isolation is doubled," she said.
Because there is a general lack of proper nutrition among a large percentage of seniors, receiving meals prepared according to nutritional guidelines is important. Alexandria's Department of Human services, Office on Aging and Adult Services, funds part of the meals, which cost approximately $6 per day per recipient, and employs a nutritionist who supervises the quality of the meals, according to Senior Services.
Walls took over as director of the program in May having returned to Alexandria from Portland, Ore., when her husband Rob, a member of U.S. Coast Guard, was transferred to headquarters in Washington, D.C. She had previously lived in the city when her father was in the U.S. Air Force.
She holds a degree in communications from Portland State University and is now working on her master's degree in Public Policy at George Mason University.