Drop in volunteers causes Meals on Wheels to revamp

Halifax Meals on Wheels is trying to improve its brand, in order to spread word about the organization and attract younger volunteers.

Since January, Halifax Meals on Wheels, an organization that delivers nutritious meals to those who cannot make their own, has been figuring out what they can do to attract more volunteers.

In February there were 101 clients who needed meals delivered to them. Meals on Wheels has an “active list” of 58 volunteers. Only 45 of those volunteers actually took part in the deliveries last month.

Geri Kearns, president of the Meals on Wheels board, said that she strongly believes they would need 100 volunteers to run the program smoothly. When Kearns began volunteering eight years ago, there were around 80 volunteers.

“Our focus is volunteers,” said Kearns. “We’ll cover everything in this promotion, but it’s really the volunteers we’re looking for.”

Meals on Wheels has hired a small group of people to help in the revamping process and promote the organization. Kearns said there is no shortage when it comes to clients, the problem is having enough volunteers to deliver the meals.

Meals on Wheels is planning a launch party that will take place in June. Some changes that will be presented include a new logo and new brochures.  They also plan to create a Facebook page and a Twitter account.

“We are a charity, but people think they have to be on social assistance to get our services. That’s not the case,” said Kearns. “Our role really, is that if you are unable – no matter what age you are – to prepare a nutritious meal for yourself, then you are eligible to get our service.”

Through this revamping, Kearns said she hopes they can change some of these misconceptions.

Seniors helping seniors

A majority of the volunteers are over 60 years old, with some volunteers even being over 80 years old. Kearns said winter and summer months can be hard because many of the senior volunteers go away on vacation.

Kearns said ideally, when Meals on Wheels delivers the meals, there are two volunteers on a route. One is the driver, and the other delivers the food.

“One of the shortages that we have are driver volunteers. Some of the drivers we do have don’t want to go out in the winter because they are getting older,” said Kearns.

This year they had to cancel delivery eight times due to winter weather conditions. Some years they have never had to cancel.

There are seven routes that Meals on Wheels services – most of them five times a week. If they had two volunteers on every route, they would need around 70 volunteers a week.

“Most of us on the board go out more than once a week,” said Kearns. “All of us drive as well.”

Janeske Vonkeman, 23, is one of three volunteers who are under the age of 60. She has been volunteering since June 2014.

Vonkeman is a volunteer at a couple of organizations, but decided to get involved with Meals on Wheels because she wanted to try something new and different.

“I’ve had the opportunity to meet great people, clients and other volunteers,” said Vonkeman. “Small kind acts can make a big difference to someone, and I’ve seen this with Meals on Wheels.”

Vonkeman said she thinks it is really important for young people to get involved with Meals on Wheels because it provides on opportunity to make a difference in the community.

“We tend to get caught up in our school or work bubbles and forget about what’s going on around us,” said Vonkeman. “Not only does it allow us to help people living in our community, but it helps enrich ourselves.”

Kearns said she knows students do a lot of volunteer work with regular schooling, but that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of young people continuing with it.

“I know it’s because they need to get a job. They need some money, and we’re not paying people, but you know, it’s satisfying.”

Meals on Wheels recently celebrated its 40th anniversary in Halifax. Kearns said she hopes with these coming changes, they will be able to celebrate the 50th anniversary.