State Rep. Drew Darby visited Meals For The Elderly Wednesday to deliver meals during the organization’s March for Meals campaign.
March 23 is Community Champions Day at Meals For The Elderly, but because Darby will not be able to attend the event that day, he visited the facility Wednesday instead.
After receiving a welcome from marketing and event director Becca Edens, president and CEO Charlyn Ocker showed Darby around the program’s facility and introduced him to kitchen helpers and other volunteers.
According to Ocker, Meals For The Elderly started in 1974 and this is the organization’s 46th year serving seniors in the Concho Valley.
“We started with 16 clients back in 1974, and now we have over 700. We are not a government agency nor a United Way agency. Our funding comes from contributions, donations and grants. Drew Darby has been a strong supporter of the Meals For The Elderly even before he got into politics. So we are very happy that he was able to join us today” Ocker said.
Meals For The Elderly delivers meals throughout Tom Green County, Monday through Friday. On Mondays, they deliver hot meals and frozen breakfast items and on Fridays, they serve a hot meal plus a weekend sack lunch.
“During the middle of the week we have some clients whose only food they get is ours, so they may get an additional frozen meal. We also have a milk and bread program for those who do not need our hot meal or frozen meals.” Ocker said.
According to Edens, MFTE is always in need of more volunteers. Its overall volunteer force is approximately 2,400 and to be able to feed all their customers they need at least 240 volunteers per week. Although that number includes kitchen helpers, there are 42 routes in San Angelo and the surrounding area, which is covered daily, so “it takes a massive amount of people to get the meals delivered,” Edens said.
“Right now Meals For The Elderly serves more seniors than they have ever done before, so they are in need of new routes. But, with new routes we need five new drivers every week. We have some outline areas that are only getting meals once or twice a week. We would love to up that, but we have to have volunteers who can drive those routes and get the food out.” she said.
Spring Break is a time where the program is in need of more volunteers, especially substitutes and emergency drivers. During holidays and breaks, children come back to San Angelo and families go on vacations, so regular volunteers might not be able to help and the organization is in desperate need for someone who can fill in those gaps.
“We need people who are willing to drive on little to no notice when a regular driver cannot fulfill their route” Edens emphasized.
Darby said, “I am here to support one of the greatest programs the community offers. It shows the outreach that our community has with those who are the most vulnerable in our community. This is a wonderful program. I have been associated with the program for a number of years, long before I became State Representative. I recognize the value it has not only to the people they serve but certainly to this community as a whole.”
Darby agreed that seniors need to be served in the community and said that there is a real need for people like the volunteers at Meals who can help get the right resources out to the people that need them, when they need it.
“Our community is blessed to have our senior citizens, but it also presents a challenge. In these economic times where oil and gas industry fluctuates up and down and creates additional challenges, we also need to take care of our aging population. San Angelo is an attractive place for people to retire, with the Goodfellow Air Force Base, Angelo State University, plenty of art, and other amenities. As the population ages, we have to make sure that we have services that are properly delivered to them.” Darby said.
Darby believes programs like this are not just important, but that they are absolutely critical. He says that unfortunately, this is the only human contact some of these seniors have. Their families might not live in this area and some families seldom check on their loved ones. Therefore, this program not only gets them a hot meal, it gives them the opportunity to have some human interaction. It also gives the volunteers the opportunity to check on the elders’ health, he says.
Darby had 12 stops Wednesday and he was excited to go out and deliver. As a former door-to-door salesperson, Darby said he loves knocking on doors and meeting the people that live behind them.
“I was just checking some of the names and I think I know several of them.” Darby said.
He thinks this is a good opportunity for him to reach out to old acquaintances. Also, as a policy maker and a decision maker on behalf of the State of Texas, he says his job is to make sure organizations like MFTE have the resources they need to help them deliver and perform their mission.
Edens says it means a lot to the people who work at Meals For The Elderly when someone that the community recognizes are able to lend value and credibility to what they are doing.
“We are a quiet group, we do not like to toot our own horns, so if we can get a community leader who is already out in the spotlight to lend some of the spotlight to our program, that is very valuable.” she said.
Meals is participating in the March for Meals Movement. An important part of this movement is to be noticed by community leaders and by representatives and senators who can make a lasting change to seniors lives and the way the community value their seniors. It also makes them eligible for a grant.
The Meals on Wheels America Foundation is a national organization that is trying to get more support for local meals programs throughout the country. To make that happen and to be eligible for a grant, they asked organizations such as the local organization to get their name out, do some fundraising, community activities and to get their representatives to come and deliver meals.
“Last year we got $2,500 from Meals on Wheels America after doing some of these activities. It may not sound like much, but we are feeding seniors for $3.50 a meal right now, so we can help a lot of seniors with just that grant alone,” Edens said.
On Community Champions Day, March 23, other community leaders will participate and deliver meals. Just like Darby, they each will be paired up with volunteers, then go through the office, get a tour of the kitchen and after they have delivered the meals they will all come back to the kitchen and try the meals themselves.
For more information about Meals For The Elderly and how to volunteer go to mealsfortheelderly.org or call 325-655-9200.