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Meals on Wheels in Utah County needs volunteers to bring food and social connections to seniors | News, Sports, Jobs

Curtis Booker, Daily Herald

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

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

The retired couple have been volunteering with Meals on Wheels for a little over a year. The Andersens decided to offer their time after learning that delivery drivers were needed in Utah County.

“They were short staffed and a lot of seniors needed a hot meal at least once a day, and Meals on Wheels is usually their only source,” Pat Andersen told the Daily Herald. “So I just asked Dennis, 'Well, we're retired. We have the time, we have the wheels, so we can volunteer.'”

Driven by a desire to serve the community and connect with other seniors, they deliver nearly a dozen meals to households in their respective areas. “We pick up the food right at 11 a.m. and take about 15 minutes to sort and organize everything. Then we make our deliveries and are finished by 12 p.m.,” explains Dennis Andersen.

The Andersens said they occasionally take on an extra route because of a shortage of drivers that the homebound seniors depend on for their meals. “There are people who really need the food and aren't getting it,” Pat Andersen said.

Courtesy of Mountainland Association of Governments

This undated photo shows Meals on Wheels employees (from left: Mauryn Grande, Heather Dorius, Jimmy Golding and Amy Jenkins) next to their delivery truck.

The Andersens are not the only volunteers helping with food delivery.

The Mountainland Association of Government Aging and Family Services, which runs the Meals on Wheels program in Utah County, says about 20 volunteer routes need substitute drivers each week. They say more volunteers are urgently needed to fill the gaps.

They deliver 523 meals a day from Monday to Friday – that’s about 2,600 meals a week.

While the program also serves Wasatch and Summit counties, Utah County's growing senior population is increasing the need for more volunteers from Lehi to Santaquin and in between.

Kris Nelson, director of development at Meals on Wheels, says this time of year it's usually difficult to retain many of the regular volunteers, many of whom are college and university students heading home for the summer. “At peak times we have about 350 volunteers, but we really lose a lot in the summer. The turnover is probably 30 to 40 percent,” Nelson told the Daily Herald.

The lack of volunteers not only prevents the program from delivering nutritious meals, but in some cases, it also prevents isolated seniors from socializing. “71 percent of our clients only have a visit from our Meals on Wheels delivery person that day,” Nelson said. “They may have family in the area, but we all know families are busy and you can't always drop everything to go somewhere. The impact of that daily check-in and that daily meal on these seniors is immeasurable.”

Meals on Wheels in Utah County currently maintains a waiting list for seniors who need daily meals. Program leaders say that without enough volunteers, meal deliveries will be disrupted, putting vulnerable clients at risk of malnutrition and loneliness.

Nelson says volunteers can give as much or as little time as their schedule allows. “We just want to expand our volunteer database so we have more options and never have to turn a client away from getting the meal they expect and need,” she said.

Pat and Dennis Andersen say the opportunity to help others is a rewarding experience, and that's what keeps them delivering meals week after week. “Maybe someday we'll be in that position ourselves. And so we're kind of paying it forward,” Dennis Andersen said.

“So, yes, we had fun. And we're going to keep doing it until we can't anymore,” added Pat Andersen.

If you would like to volunteer, visit mountainland.org/volunteermow.

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