WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Wichita Aged Services is struggling to find volunteers to deliver Meals on Wheels to senior citizens living at home. Now, that struggle may affect other services.
When there are not enough volunteers, Senior Service employees stop what they are doing and deliver food.
“Staff ended up taking multiple routes,” said Laurel Alkire, executive director of Wichita Senior Services. “They were gone for two hours, and they came back, and they still have to do an assessment.”
He said workers need all their time assessing current and new clients and making home visits.
“We are considering temporarily holding back new client additions until we can catch up,” he said. “Currently, delivering up to 850 meals may not be realistic given the limited manpower of both staff and volunteers.”
Nick Bach has been a Meals on Wheels volunteer for almost two years. He is retired and says it is a good way to stay connected to the community.
“People who stay at home may not get food other than this,” he said. “This is a very worthy cause. It makes you, the volunteer, feel good. You are helping humanity.”
Bach, who is retired, delivers food on Wednesdays and Fridays. On one day, he delivered 10 meals, which took about 45 to 50 minutes. Another day, he delivers 23 meals, which can take about an hour and 10 minutes.
“I love doing it. I love interacting with these people. They are very appreciative,” he said. “We had a bit of a relationship and checked in with each other, and it felt good.”
Alkire wasn’t sure why the volunteers had come down.
“I don’t know if it’s because of the cost of fuel, if they have decided they want to do something else,” he said. “You know, they are older. Some of them have had surgery, some of them are sick. We’ve had some with COVID, it’s still there, so it’s been a real struggle for us.
He says volunteers visiting homes is essential to the daily routine of Meals on Wheels clients.
“More than just eating, they love to see someone at the door because most of our Meals on Wheels clients… are isolated, and they’re the only volunteers they see,” says Alkire. “So they really look forward to that conversation, and it can be really fun. Our volunteers are very connected with their clients.”
Senior Services makes it as easy as possible for volunteers. You can apply by clicking here.
“We take care of everything. We got you ready to go. You’re out. You get an address sheet with specific instructions on it, with names, so you know where you are going and who you are going to talk to,” said Alkire.
Volunteers can choose the day they want and the city area they want.
“If there is a route opened in the area, we can provide it to you,” said Alkire.
“It’s something that you’re going to enjoy, that you’re going to see these invisible people because they’re staying at home, we didn’t even know they were there, and I think you’re going to find that sometimes you get a lot more out of it. than the client,” he said.
Alkire is also encouraging local companies to sign up to help.
“Many companies are now encouraging their employees to take the route,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a team building thing for their staff, but we have a lot of repeat customers.”
He mentioned Davis-Moore Auto Group, Intrust Bank, and Evergy sending staff to volunteer.
“We’re just seeing more employers, and I think this is the new trend, encouraging their employees to go out and do community service,” said Alkire. “It looks good on them, of course, and it also exposes their employees to what’s going on in society.”
Those applying to volunteer must have their references checked and attend a short orientation.
What happens if a volunteer doesn’t sign up?
“It’s stressful, you know,” said Alkire. “We’re understaffed, and they’re already stressed out, but they’re doing a great job and thank goodness we have great, great staff, but we need volunteers to help us.”
He said temporarily delaying adding new clients was only one option. Another one is giving Meals on Wheels clients more boxed meals.
“During COVID, we made boxed meals,” says Alkire. “Usually canned meat, crackers, that sort of thing.”
He says clients get two boxes each fall to store in case bad weather keeps volunteers from delivering fresh food.
“So it’s an option that we can do is make boxed meals and distribute them first, but that’s also a lot of work and cost.”
Alkire said his preference was to get more volunteers.
“Go out and send. You will have a great time. You will meet other people, ”he said. “Other volunteers, we have many of them who have developed friendships, and I think you will really enjoy the experience.”