Meals on Wheels volunteering: 'Where the rubber meets the road'
PRESCOTT - Even for a long-time resident of Prescott like Mayor Marlin Kuykendall, the route that Meals on Wheels volunteer Don Jepsen drove one recent morning came as a bit of a revelation.
Snaking through such varied neighborhoods as Wildwood, Vista del Cerro, Pine Lakes, Forbing Park and the Shady Acres mobile home park, the 29-mile route in northwest Prescott included some remote corners.
"I thought I knew a lot about our community, but I've learned a lot," Kuykendall, a resident of the area for more than four decades, said, as Jepsen negotiated the hills and curves on the route. "You've already had me lost two or three times."
Indeed, the level of remoteness appeared to make the meal that Jepsen was delivering to the shut-ins even more significant.
Time and time again, the elderly recipients of the meals expressed gratitude for the roasted pork and mashed potato lunch that Jepsen brought to their doors.
"They treat us really good," one woman said. "He's a fabulous person," another said of Jepsen's attentive care.
For his part, Jepsen did more than deliver food. He asked each of the meal recipients how they were doing and whether they needed any help.
"We serve as their first line of defense," Jepsen said.
That was especially apparent to Jepsen recently, when he arrived at the home of a 93-year-old woman on his route and found her injured.
"She told me, 'I've fallen; could you call 911?'" Jepsen recalled. "She had been lying there for several hours."
Jepsen's call for help brought emergency crews to the home. "I was grateful I could be there in a time of need," Jepsen said.
While the recipients were mostly elderly, their living conditions contrasted widely. Jepsen's route included 13 stops - veering from spacious, modern homes to mobile homes on cramped lots.
"It cuts across all socio-economic levels," Jepsen said of the people on his route. The common denominator: the need for a helping hand.
For instance, two of the recipients were undergoing chemotherapy and were unable to venture out, while others could get around only with the help of walkers or wheelchairs.
Meals on Wheels Director Pam Hanno said the recipients of the home meals must be "over 60 and either homebound or disabled." The Northern Arizona Council of Governments (NACOG), which provides about $9,000 per month to the local Meals on Wheels, screens the applicants to determine whether they qualify for the home meals.
In addition to the money from NACOG, Meals on Wheels also gets revenue for its operations from donations - many through the state's tax credit program. The $5 that some recipients pay for their meals also generates revenue.
Kuykendall rode along this past week as part of an effort by Meals on Wheels to get the word out about "senior hunger in America." Councilwoman Tammy Linn also rode along on a route this week.
"You really see what's going on (by riding on the routes)," Kuykendall said. "This has always been one of the premium organizations in the community."
Jepsen, who has volunteered with Meals on Wheels for about three years, has a special fondness for the time he spends delivering meals.
"This is my favorite (volunteer effort)," said Jepsen, who also helps with a number of others. "It's where the rubber meets the road."
Noting that several of the people along the route had backgrounds that included helping others, Jepsen called his volunteer work "paying it forward."
Josephine Heyl, one of the people along the route, agreed, pointing out that she had once volunteered as a senior companion. "It's the law of reciprocity," she said.
Hanno said Meals on Wheels delivers about 165 meals a day, spread out over 10 routes. In addition, the program offers meals, which are open to the public for a $5 or $6 donation at its home base at the Rowle P. Simmons Community Center at 1280 E. Rosser St. In all, the daily meals total about 275.
Jepsen is one of about 70 people who volunteer to deliver the home meals.