By Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
VOLUSIA COUNTY - Every morning at the Port Orange Adult Center, volunteer delivery drivers with the Council on Aging of Volusia County's Meals on Wheels program wait anxiously to deliver a fresh batch of hot lunches for elderly people who need them.
As he watched a volunteer seal up the meals in plastic wrap and place them in red meal carriers containing a routing number, John Humiston said he became a Meals on Wheels driver because he felt it was necessary for him to donate his time to help seniors in need.
"You've got so many people who are shut in," he said. "They're using a cane or a walker and are too old to drive. If it weren't for us, they wouldn't be able to eat nutritionally and maintain good health."
Meals on Wheels staff said their existing volunteer base is not enough to meet the needs of the large number of seniors throughout the county who depend on the delivery drivers for their food.
"We always need drivers on all of our sites," said Charly Poniapowski, Meals on Wheels nutrition program manager. "We need them desperately in a few of our locations."
Both the east and west sides of the county are in need, but Daytona Beach and Holly Hill are seeing the greatest shortage of delivery drivers, Ms. Poniapowski said. She attributed the need in these areas to the size of both communities; Daytona Beach "covers a lot of ground" due to its large size, while the small size of Holly Hill makes it difficult to find volunteers because most drivers choose to serve the communities they live in.
Another reason new drivers are needed, Ms. Poniapowski said, is because many existing drivers are also aging. She said the median age of Meals on Wheels drivers in the county is between 60 and 70.
The task of transporting the meals from place to place is vital to providing seniors with an essential source of nutrition, she said.
"These are seniors who can't get out, the frailest of the frail, who don't have family members to help them and desperately need our services," Ms. Poniapowski said.
Through its Meals on Wheels program, volunteers deliver 700 meals every day to seniors living in private residences and apartment buildings throughout the county on about 80 to 90 individual routes. Ms. Poniapowski said Meals on Wheels has more than 600 volunteers, with eight to 10 driving each route.
It usually takes about 20 minutes to prepare 60 to 70 meals at the Port Orange site, she said.
The council operates the program out of eight different senior centers throughout the county, where they also serve lunches on site for seniors who are able to leave the house. Besides the Port Orange Adult Center, Meals on Wheels also operates out of the Windsor Apartments in Daytona Beach, the Brannon Center in New Smyrna Beach, the Lexington Club at Hunter's Creek in DeLand, and the Sunshine Senior Center in Deltona.
Meals on Wheels, Ms. Poniapowski said, is more than just providing seniors with meals. The visits also serve to benefit as "a well-being check" where volunteers check how the person living at the residence is doing. The delivery drivers are often the only people seniors will speak to on a given day, she said.
Cindy Cory, Meals on Wheels' dining site manager for Port Orange, agreed the social interaction between drivers and seniors is just as important as the meal.
"We're a lifeline to a lot of them," she said. "Our drivers are our eyes and ears."
Seniors also understand the benefits of what the Council on Aging offers.
As she watched the Meals on Wheels volunteers pack up meals, Charlotte Pierson, a retired nurse who lives alone, described Meals on Wheels and the on-site congregate dining as part of "a circle" that provides social contact to aging people living on their own.
She comes to the Adult Center three days a week, and the friendships she made are why she enjoys being there.
"Everybody here is really friendly," she said.
Ms. Pierson added the meals have helped improve her nutrition as well.
"I have never eaten so many vegetables in my entire life until now," she said.
Ms. Cory, who's worked with the Council on Aging for seven years, said the difference she's made in seniors' lives is why she enjoys the work she does.
"I love it," she said. "It's a very rewarding job."
For more information on the Meals on Wheels program, contact (386) 253-4700.