Advocates for senior citizens and people with disabilities in Vermont fear a critical shortage of volunteers may mean those vulnerable populations could struggle to get the nutrition they need.
“The need right now is dire,” said Sara Wool of Age Well, Vermont’s largest Meals on Wheels provider.
Age Well serves Addison, Chittenden, Grand Isle, and Franklin Counties in the northwestern portion of the state.
Wool said her agency and its peers around the country are facing a critical shortage of meals on wheels drivers, noting the problem is especially acute in rural areas.
Wool explained the need for nutritious food is growing as more seniors choose to age at home but struggle preparing it or shop for it on their own. However, many longtime volunteers can no longer handle the loads, or they now need deliveries themselves.
Not enough younger people seem willing or free to step up for the regular, ongoing commitment of this once-a-week duty, Wool told necn and NBC10 Boston.
“It’s absolutely life-saving,” Wool said of meals on wheels. “It’s preventative. It ensures that these seniors are able to live happy and healthy at home—where they want to be.”
Age Well does not want to see its nearly 1,700 meals on wheels recipients put on wait lists, which is what Wool said has happened in some other places with driver shortages.
So to fill out the schedule, the non-profit is increasingly turning to area businesses, like the employee-owned Switchback Brewing Company in Burlington, which encourages volunteerism.
It’s where meals on wheels volunteer driver Sarah Diaz works, and where she recruited a colleague who is now in training to handle her own route.
“We all know somebody that could use this service,” Diaz said.
Diaz said she spends roughly 90 minutes once a week making food deliveries before she goes to work at Switchback.
In addition to delivering nutritious food, she also performs basic safety checks, and is a friendly face at the door for some people who may not have many other visitors.
“It doesn’t take anything out of my day—it actually adds to it,” Diaz said.
One of Diaz’s stops Wednesday was to Stewart McHenry, who just had foot surgery.
“I’m getting a good diet, and the chances of healing are increased because of what I’m eating,” McHenry said of the meal delivery.
Age Well said it hopes more drivers will find that nourishing others can also feed a desire to support the community.
Click here for information on how to volunteer for Age Well. In addition to driving for meal deliveries, there are other opportunities to support the organization.