At 11 a.m. every Tuesday, Connie Noel loads her car with individual lunches fresh from Grand River Health in Rifle, checks a list of names and addresses, and spends about an hour and a half delivering food and a kind word to residents in west Rifle. She is one of 100 Meals on Wheels (MOW) volunteers who deliver hot lunches Monday through Friday to the elderly and home-bound from Canyon Creek to Parachute.
Noel has seven stops along her route. It’s tempting to chat with each person, but she said efficiency is key. “It’s a tricky balance. You want to make sure to touch base, but if you [stay and talk], others won’t get their lunches until two or three in the afternoon.”
At the first stop, a giant black Labrador named Sabbath came bounding out of the front gate, followed by Chet Reiner. Reiner got lunch, and Sabbath got her monthly bag of dry dog food, courtesy of MOW’s Portions for Pets program. “It’s a really good blessing,” said Reiner, who’s become disabled by illness and injuries from long-ago motorcycle accidents. He’s been a Meals on Wheels client for three years. “The food is good,” he said. “And it’s refreshing to see a smile.”
Other clients along the route said the same thing, and Noel explained that it’s important to do what she calls “a visual check.” “These are people who don’t see anyone else at all,” she said.
MOW got its start at Rifle’s Clagett Memorial Hospital in 1976. “We’ve always served from Silt to Parachute,” said Kaaren Peck, director of volunteer services at Grand River Health. “We added New Castle to our routes about 10 years ago because it made sense geographically.”
Grand River MOW has been a part of the Meals on Wheels Association of America for a decade, added Peck, which is how she was able to purchase an official MOW delivery vehicle two years ago. “[Meals on Wheels Association of America] gave us $20,000 for the car,” she explained. “Grand River Health employees kicked in another $3,000, and we got a nice discount from Columbine Ford.”
The 2012 Ford Escape is a racy, can’t-miss, midnight blue with a splash of neon green and the MOW logo on each side. Volunteers use the car for deliveries on each of the four routes at least once a week. “We want people in the communities we serve to know we’re here,” said Peck. “Maybe someone who sees the car will sign up to receive meals.”
The lunches are hearty and nutritious. About one-third of the meals are free to clients,” said Peck. “The rest of the meals cost up to $4.”
Meal delivery has more than tripled over the past nine years from 3,716 in 2005 to over 13,000 in 2013. Now, MOW’s Portions for Pets program provides a bag of dry food for companion cats or dogs once every month. “The Grand River Health Caring and Sharing employee group picks up the pet food tab so all other donations can go to human food,” said Peck.
MOW also offers two weeks of free meals for clients recovering from surgery or a stay at E.D. Moore Care Center or Grand River Health.
Peck is passionate about MOW and her volunteers. “I see in this group of volunteers a sense of purpose, of doing something substantial and doing something important.”
Paul and Bobbie Light, volunteers from Battlement Mesa, are members of the “500 Meal Group,” meaning they’ve delivered more than 500 meals during their eight years with MOW. “People who volunteer have more awareness of what people need,” Paul Light opined. “We have the ability to serve that need, and that gives me pleasure.” The Lights received a Garfield County Humanitarian Service Award in 2010 for their volunteer services.
There’s also an elite “5,000 Meal Group” with only three members, including Rifle resident Mac Burnett, who won a humanitarian award in 2007.
Peck, whose family has been involved in service work around the world, believes that MOW is as good for the volunteers as it is for the clients. “It takes you out of your own conundrums and predicaments,” she said.
After saying goodbye to the last client on her Tuesday route, Noel headed back to Grand River Health for her own free lunch in the hospital cafeteria — a perk for MOW volunteers. She, too, is passionate about helping MOW clients. “These people didn’t ask to have hard lives,” she said. “Yes, they made their choices, but do we abandon them now?”
Grand River Meals on Wheels is participating in the Meals on Wheels Association of America’s March for Meals program this month. Five restaurants from Battlement Mesa to Glenwood Springs will donate portions of proceeds to MOW. And the public is invited to attend the Grand River Gallop, a 5K run and 2K run/walk on Saturday, April 5, at Grand River Health in Rifle.
For more information, visit www.grandriverhealth.org.
“The food is good. And it’s refreshing to see a smile.”
Meals on Wheels client