Inside The Senior Alliance: The Need for Meals-on-Wheels Volunteers with Chuck Jackson (Ep 1.40)
In this episode, Jason Maciejewski is joined by Chuck Jackson, Director of Wayne County Department of Senior Services. They talk about the nutrition program for older adults such as home-delivered meals – also known as meals on wheels, congregate meals and liquid meals. Jason and Chuck also discuss how many meals get delivered in Wayne County every day, the number of seniors who depend on these services, and the number of volunteers that are needed to keep this program running. They also hit on the very real need for more volunteers to help out, and how you can become involved. Great information! www.thesenioralliance.org. Produced by the Senior Alliance, and Blazing Kiss Media.
Jason Maciejewski (00:00):
Welcome to Inside The Senior Alliance, a podcast exploring resources and issues in the field of aging. I’m Jason Maciejewski, CEO at The Senior Alliance, the Area Agency on Aging serving Western and Southern Wayne County. Joining me today is Chuck Jackson, Director of Wayne County’s Department of Senior Services. Chuck, thanks for joining me today on the podcast.
Chuck Jackson (00:17):
Jason, it’s great to be here. Thank you for having me.
Jason Maciejewski (00:19):
And Chuck, you know that The Senior Alliance is the State Designated Area Agency on Aging, and in that role we work with the state of Michigan to receive Older Americans Act dollars and Older Michiganians dollars. And then we push that money out to Wayne County Department of Senior Services, which is our vendor to operate the nutrition program on a day-to-day basis for older adults across our community. And within that program that your department runs for us, there are three types of nutrition programs that we collaborate on. The home delivered meals program, which most people know by its name, Meals on Wheels, but there’s also a congregate meals program and a liquid meals program. Could you break down for us how many meals are being put out into the community everyday through these nutrition programs?
Chuck Jackson (01:04):
Sure. We’ve actually put out about 2,800 meals a day. Currently, right now we’re delivering meals, providing meals Monday through Thursday. There are some locations that we’re only providing meals Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. But when we do, we also make sure that we’re providing five meals for that time period. So even though we only deliver on four days, we’re delivering five days worth of meals or five meals. And currently we are delivering both hot meals which come hot, ready to eat. And then we also have cold meals, which could be, you know, tuna salad or crab salad or something of that sort. And we also, of course, have frozen meals, which are often those meals when we’re unable to deliver. We’re providing frozen meals. We currently have 39 sites that we are actually distributing meals from. Those 39 sites, 38 of those sites actually provide congregate meals as well, where folks are coming and sitting down and having a meal.
Chuck Jackson (02:03):
And that the congregate meal sites vary between five or six people to up to as many as 50 or so people that are also sitting down and enjoying a meal together. We also provide liquid, what we refer to as liquid nutrition or liquid supplemental meals, which are liquid nutrition that those individuals who are unable to digest solid food. We also provide liquid meals as well. And currently we have 12 locations that we provide liquid meals from. And those meals are delivered typically once a month where they’re picked up for the month at those 12 locations. And I also wanted to mention that we also provide halal meals currently in Dearborn. And so we’re really proud of the fact that we actually do both congregate and home delivered halal meals in Dearborn currently.
Jason Maciejewski (02:48):
And Chuck, volunteers are absolutely essential to the operation of the Meals on Wheels program. There are volunteers out in the community that are really dedicating a lot of their time and energy to this program, and they really deliver more than a meal to home bound older adults. For many people, it’s the best part of their day. That’s the feedback that we get from a lot of the participants, and that interaction is critical to combating social isolation. Our board of directors at The Senior Alliance really values that interaction as much as we value the meal itself. So what is the role of a volunteer and what do they experience in delivering meals?
Chuck Jackson (03:22):
Wow, this is the most enjoyable part of my work to talk about is the benefit that the volunteers have as a part of doing this work. Volunteers can expect to actually, you know, interact with seniors knocking on their door, saying good morning, saying hello, wishing them a wonderful day. They’re also involved in working at the 39 locations to help us package the meals and get them ready for delivery. So each meal typically comes with milk and cookies and bread and other things that we have to typically package into brown paper bags, and often we put those into those sort of plastic, you know, like grocery store type bags. So we have everything together. So there’s a lot of opportunity for comradery and interaction when you’re working at a location with other volunteers and some of our staff to help get the meals ready to go out for delivery.
Chuck Jackson (04:16):
And then of course, when you’re out delivering the meal, you get the satisfaction. It’s hard to describe. You have to sort of experience the appreciation that you receive when you walk up and you knock on the door and you’re welcome. Folks are happy to see you. They’re you know, looking forward to just that interaction. And it also allows us the opportunity to provide a wellness check. We really get a chance to see how that particular person is doing that day. How are they walking, moving? Are they, you know, are there any challenges? You know, oftentimes with them, we get to sort of have an opportunity to see for ourselves how that individual is doing in addition to the meal. That’s part of why we talk about it’s more than just a meal. It’s really an opportunity for engagement, both for the volunteer and for the senior. And the level of gratification that you receive is very much, it’s so worth it. It’s an extremely great experience to see how appreciative folks are that you’re there.
Jason Maciejewski (05:21):
Yeah, absolutely. I’ve seen that through the meal routes that we’ve done here at The Senior Alliance as well. And the expression from people about the getting the meal and being to interact with somebody. Many times that Meals on Wheels delivery volunteer is the only person that’s seen all day long by that participant. So a really important part of our program. Wayne County and The Senior Alliance have partnered to do a volunteer recruitment campaign this fall with the theme of Wayne County’s campaign being “Be the Best Part.” And because we have an urgent need for more volunteers to prepare and deliver the meals, we’re out there with this campaign. Now exactly how many volunteers are needed for the program to really achieve our goal of getting back to five day a week hot meal delivery.
Chuck Jackson (06:03):
200 at a minimum is what we’re currently needing to get back to five meals a day. So of course, more the better. But literally for us, at a minimum, we anticipate that we need at least 200 more active volunteers. So that means, you know, individuals who are agreeing to actually engage and work with us over some extended period of time. It could be three months, it could be six months, it can be a year, but we really would like to see at least 200 more active volunteers.
Jason Maciejewski (06:37):
And that’s a pretty significant number to bring into the program as volunteers. If people are interested as well, you and I appeared on Channel 4 here in Detroit about a week ago, and people can go to click on detroit.com and search for the “Live in the D” program to catch our five minutes of fame on Channel 4 that we got. But I think the biggest need for volunteers that we’ve talked about, I think is that recurring volunteer, somebody that will maybe come out a certain day of the week on a regular basis or multiple days per week and that level of commitment is really something that makes the program go. And so how does somebody apply to be a volunteer? Is there a process? What do they have to go through?
Chuck Jackson (07:17):
Well, it’s a very simple process. The first thing is that we basically ask that volunteers be 18 and over age 18 and over. And the reason for that is we do require a background check as a part of the process. So an individual would have to, in their registration application, they would have to consent to a background check. Obviously we want to make sure our seniors are safe, so we want to make sure the individuals are and we’ve never, I don’t think had any issues with that. So first and foremost, they would have to complete a registration form. That form can be found on the Wayne County website. If you go to Wayne County and you search senior services, or we have, you can go to waynecounty.com/svs and you can also obtain that registration form there. That form allows you to select not only the times and days and hours that you would like to commit to, it also provides a list of the locations that are available for you. And so you would, a volunteer would have the opportunity to select the community that they would like to volunteer in, as well as they would tell us the time commitment they’re able to make the hourly time commitment as well as the duration in which they’d be able to volunteer. Typically, right now our work is done between the hours of 8 and 1, maybe 1:30 during Monday through Thursday. So during the work day, during the school day.
Jason Maciejewski (08:41):
Right, if people want to get an idea of what the meals look like or what the packaging looks like, you know what they might be volunteering with they can go check out our appearance on “Live in the D” and they can see the hot bag and most notably the slammer that Hobie and you used to package that meal as some of the things that our volunteers do. So when somebody wants to sign up to volunteer and they put that, they go to the Wayne County website, or they can also go to a website that The Senior Alliance is established called whatdrivesyoutovolunteer.org, which will take you to the Wayne County site. How many days is it? I mean, it’s not like, this is not something you can like click and expect to volunteer the next day, right?
Chuck Jackson (09:17):
No, it doesn’t happen quite that fast, but it is a pretty quick process. Once someone agrees to volunteer, we get their information, we contact them, we go through the application process, and we’re able to have someone assigned fairly quickly, within a week or two of their registration form being completed. So it’s really a pretty quick process and, you know, we’re looking for volunteers that could typically, you know, if there’s two hours or four hours, it typically takes, as we talked about, as you mentioned on “Live in the D” it takes about an hour to an hour and a half to deliver. But if you’re looking at wanting to help support packaging and the other aspects of it, it varies. But a commitment of two hours, 1, 2, 3, or 4 days a week would be tremendously valuable to us and allow us the opportunity to continue to provide this service to our seniors.
Jason Maciejewski (10:11):
So I want to put a challenge out there to the business community in Western Wayne and Down River. A couple of years ago, The Senior Alliance adopted a route that we deliver twice a week in the city of Inkster. It’s one of the ways that we as an agency, live our mission to deliver this Meals on Wheels route. We open up this opportunity to our staff, and we have about 97 team members right now, and we have a sign up that they can do to go volunteer. And really, we, we’ve done this as a way to meet the challenge for more volunteers as well as, you know, supporting our work as a nonprofit agency but our staff go out in teams of two, and like you just mentioned, usually it’s a couple of hours by the time they leave our offices, deliver the route and come back.
Jason Maciejewski (10:50):
It has been a fantastic experience for our staff. Not only do they get to participate in some of the work that we do, they get to interact with older adults out in the community who might be isolated. Again, that might be the only person that that program participant sees or talks to that day. Really a fantastic way for our staff to interact. And, and it’s across departmental lines too. Typically, people from different departments will go out and volunteer together, so they’re really building relationships here at the agency. So I’m going to challenge other businesses, nonprofits, community service organizations to join us and adopt one of these routes. And so check if a business is interested in doing that, in adopting a route, who do they reach out to explore that?
Chuck Jackson (11:31):
Well, I would be the starting point. So they could contact me via my office number, which is 734-326-4607. Or they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would really, really love to have businesses and other members of our community step up, and there are a lot of ways that they can support our work in addition to adopting a route. And I think it would be fantastic for that business and for those employees and for the community.
Jason Maciejewski (12:03):
Yeah, we’ve talked about a lot of different ways that businesses can support the program, in addition to delivering a route and some of the other things that they could do in partnership. Hopefully interested businesses will reach out and establish that connection with you at Wayne County Department of Senior Services. So again, to learn more about volunteering and to sign up, The Senior Alliance has established the website whatdrivesyoutovolunteer.org, takes you right to the volunteer site on Wayne County’s webpage. So Chuck, thank you again and your team at Wayne County Department of Senior Services and Wayne County Government for your partnership and working with us to deliver these nutrition programs in our community. We have a fantastic program and we look to continue to grow it. So thank you for your partnership and thank you for joining me on today’s episode.
Chuck Jackson (12:45):
Thank you for having me, Jason. It was absolutely my pleasure.
Jason Maciejewski (12:48):
If you have any questions about services or programs The Senior Alliance offers, you can call us at (734) 722-2830 or email us at email@example.com. Information about our agency and the programs and services we offer can be found on our website at thessenioralliance.org. On Facebook, we can be located by searching for The Senior Alliance. Finally, our X, formerly known as Twitter handle is @AAA1C. I’m Jason Maciejewski. Thank you for listening to this episode of Inside The Senior Alliance.
Speaker 3 (13:25):
Inside The Senior Alliance is a production of The Senior Alliance and Blazing Kiss Media.