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Utah County’s Meals on Wheels in need of volunteers to bring food, social interaction to seniors

By Curtis Booker - | Jun 11, 2024

Curtis Booker, Daily Herald

Dennis and Pat Andersen of Pleasant Grove show off a bag used to store food they deliver for the Meals on Wheels program. The couple was pictured inside their home Wednesday, June 5, 2024.

Once a week, Pat and Dennis Andersen of Pleasant Grove load up their vehicle at the local senior center with bags of meals, which they deliver to area senior citizens.

The retired couple has been volunteering with Meals on Wheels for a little over a year. The Andersens decided to offer up their time after learning there was a need for delivery drivers in Utah County.

“They were short-handed and a lot of seniors were in need of a hot meal at least once a day, and Meals on Wheels is their only source for the most part,” Pat Andersen told the Daily Herald. “So I just asked Dennis, I said, ‘Well, we’re retired. We’ve got the time, we’ve got the wheels, so we can volunteer.'”

Led by an inspiration to serve the community and to connect with fellow seniors, they deliver just under a dozen meals to homes in their assigned area. “We pick up the food right around 11 o’clock in the morning, it takes us about 15 minutes to get it all separated and sorted out. And then we make our deliveries and we’re done by 12 o’clock,” Dennis Andersen explained.

Every so often, the Andersen’s said they’ll pick up an additional route due to a lack of drivers that homebound seniors rely on for their meals “There are people who really need the food that aren’t getting it,” Pat Andersen said.

Courtesy Mountainland Association of Governments

This undated photo shows Meals on Wheels staff, from left, Mauryn Grande, Heather Dorius, Jimmy Golding and Amy Jenkins, near their van.

The Andersens aren’t the only volunteers stepping up to help get meals delivered.

The Mountainland Association of Government Aging and Family Services, which runs the Meals on Wheels program in Utah County, says around 20 volunteer routes need substitute drivers each week. They say there’s an urgent need for more volunteers to help fill the gaps.

They deliver 523 meals a day Monday-Friday — that’s around 2,600 meals per week.

While the program also services Wasatch and Summit counties, Utah County’s increasing senior population also increases the need for more volunteers from Lehi to Santaquin and points in between.

Kris Nelson, development director for Meals on Wheels, says this time of year usually presents a challenge in retaining many of their regular volunteers, many of whom are college and university students who go home for the summer. “We have 350, give or take, volunteers at our high tide, but we really lose a lot over the summer. The attrition is probably 30%-40%,” Nelson told the Daily Herald.

Not only does a volunteer shortage hinder the program from delivering nutritious meals, but also in some cases from providing social interaction for isolated seniors. “Seventy-one percent of our clients, the only visitor they have that day is our Meals on Wheels delivery person,” Nelson said. “They may have family in the area, but we all know that families get busy and you can’t always drop everything to get somewhere. So having that daily check-in and that daily meal, the impact on these seniors, it’s immeasurable.”

Meals on Wheels of Utah County currently has a waiting list for seniors needing to receive the daily meals. Program leaders say without enough volunteers, meal delivery services are disrupted, thus putting vulnerable clients at risk of malnutrition and loneliness.

Nelson says volunteers can commit to as much or as little time as their schedule permits. “We just want to increase our volunteer database so that we have more options and we never have to turn a client away to not get that meal when they’re anticipating it and they’re in need of it,” she said.

Pat and Dennis Andersen say the opportunity to help others provides a rewarding experience, and that’s what keeps them delivering meals week after week. “We may find ourselves in that position sometime. And so we’re kind of paying it forward,” Dennis Andersen said.

“So, yeah, we’ve enjoyed it. And we’ll continue to do it until we can’t,” added Pat Andersen.

For those looking to volunteer, visit mountainland.org/volunteermow.


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