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Lack of volunteer wheels for meals threatens Sudbury program

The executive director of Sudbury's Meals on Wheels program is urgently searching for new volunteers to make sure more than 400 shut-ins continue to receive food.
Meals on Wheels prepares and delivers hot meals every day for more than 400 Sudburians in need. (Canadian Press)

The executive director of Sudbury's Meals on Wheels program is urgently searching for new volunteers to make sure more than 400 shut-ins continue to receive food.

"Delivering meals for Meals on Wheels is a very unique experience," said Kelly Zinger, who started as a volunteer, "It is very hard to explain to somebody the joy that you feel once you do it."

Currently, the group delivers hot meals five-days-a-week, and frozen meals every two weeks to 440 clients.

At their peak a decade ago, there were 200 volunteers; now they are down to 82, Zinger said, but only 54 are drivers.

She said she'd like to see 200 volunteers again, but her group isn't the only one losing manpower.

"Overall, in the various sectors, there is a decrease in volunteer numbers.We have a lot of elderly people who are retired themselves and we just don't seem to see more numbers coming in," she said.

The hot meal program may be in jeopardy if Meals on Wheels can't find more volunteers. 6:54

A volunteer might be asked to deliver 17 meals to homes along a route between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., for which he or she would be given a $7.50 gas subsidy. Zinger said​, right now, some staff members are helping, and current volunteers may receive double the usual number of meals to deliver in an effort to maintain service. 

She said she's trying to attract help from groups that don't traditionally volunteer, such as university students, and even businesses. She said she'd like to see workplaces allow an employee to take a couple of hours a month to deliver meals.

If she doesn't get more volunteers, Zinger said the hot meal delivery may be cut to three days a week, instead of five — something that may have an impact on the health of her clients and their ability to live independently.

"We're appealing to the public to help support us [and] to understand that, by keeping people in their homes and providing them with a nutritious meal, we'll keep them out of the long-term care system and the costly health care system," said Zinger.

"People want to stay in their homes. They want to be able to age gracefully in their homes."

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