Heat puts extra pressure on Tempe Meals on Wheels volunteers

Meals on Wheels volunteer Joyce Godfrey delivers a meal to Helen Killingsworth at her home. She’s one of about 50 clients Tempe Meals on Wheels serves. (Photo by Nick Serpa/Cronkite News)

TEMPE – Tempe Meals on Wheels depends on volunteers to make deliveries and run the organization, but Arizona’s summer heat creates challenges – mainly, a shortage of hands. That can have dangerous consequences to elderly clients, many of whom live alone.

“Everybody heads for the hills in the summer,” said Gwen Hanna, president of the nonprofit, which delivers hot and cold meals to about 50 people with mobility issues. “The different routes need more drivers.”

The high heat not only chases volunteers out of town, it can be deadly for older adults. Each meal that Tempe Meals on Wheels delivers also serves as a wellness check for its mostly retired clientele.

Hanna said “a lot more people end up in the hospital” during the summer months. The organization has the phone numbers of clients’ friends and relatives if volunteers can’t get anyone to answer the door.

“We just make sure that they’re comfortable and that their air-conditioning is working and that they’re OK,” Hanna said.

Jan Miner, a Meals on Wheels volunteer, writes out customer dietary restrictions for Friendship Village cooks. Tempe Meals on Wheels uses prescription information and notes from doctors to make sure the diets are appropriate. (Photo by Nick Serpa/Cronkite News)

Some drivers, like Joyce Godfrey, have taken additional shifts to ensure clients’ needs are met during summer. Despite the increased time commitment, Godfrey said delivering meals is important.

“It’s nice to feel like you’re helping people in the community”, she said. “They’re very, very appreciative of it.”

One appreciative client is Kerry Wilson, who enrolled his parents, Douglas and Beverly, in the service.

“They like having food come every day,” he said. “It’s very helpful because they’re not able to prepare meals for themselves anymore.”

At peak times during the year, Tempe Meals on Wheels has as many as 200 volunteers available to label orders, answer phones and deliver meals as needed. But that number drops during the summer, Hanna said, as people head to cooler weather.

Tempe Meals on Wheels delivers Mondays through Fridays. Many clients are older, but the group also serves people recovering from surgery or those with sensory impairments. Fifty is about the maximum for now, Hanna said, at least with the current number of volunteers.

Meals on Wheels customers place signs like this in their windows to ensure volunteers deliver to the right homes. (Photo by Nick Serpa/Cronkite News)

Sometimes, the nonprofit has to place people on waiting lists when interest exceeds its capacity, although there’s no list at the moment.

“We have different routes that we can cover, and if those are full, we put people on hold,” she said, “but we also refer them to other agencies that can help.”

Hanna said the organization prioritizes serving based on need, rather than solely by such factors as age and income. All they ask for is that clients have at least one doctor’s prescription to prove there’s some need for the service.

“We’re pretty loose with our restrictions on who gets meals,” Hanna said.

Tempe Meals on Wheels prepares and delivers more than 15,000 meals per year. It operates out of a storage room at the assisted-living center Friendship Village, which provides the space and a telephone line for free.

Meals are prepared in the center’s kitchen, which costs Meals on Wheels a few thousand dollars per month. The average cost of meals for one customer is $20 per week, which is exactly what Meals on Wheels charges their clients.

“We are very very thankful to Friendship Village for partnering with us,” Hanna said.

People interested in volunteering with Tempe Meals on Wheels can call their office at 480-756-5835.

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