Volunteer driver benefits from Meals On Wheels too
"I'm disappointed when she's not there."
That's how Jeff Shields feels about Consuela, one of his favorite clients on his weekly Meals On Wheels route in Southwest Portland.
Shields is one of 450 volunteer drivers who deliver meals five days a week in the Portland area. Consuela is one of the hundreds who receives those meals —a carton of milk, salad, entree and dessert.
"Consuela is my most engaging client," Shields says. "She'll come out with all her dogs when I arrive and we'll engage in conversation. Actually, she'll talk my ear off. But I'm more than willing to listen."
Shields is relatively new to his duties and route but is fairly typical of the volunteers who deliver meals. He's a retired pharmacy executive with Providence Health Systems. He also drives for Uber in his spare time.
"I love meeting people, and this gets me out there meeting them. And I like to drive, so this and Uber are perfect for me." he says.
The technology that Meals On Wheels now offers volunteer drivers is similar to what ride-sharing services like Uber are using. Each client's address is listed with precise directions, and instructions are included for delivery methods. For Consuela, Shields knows to knock on her door 30 times. "I get a kick out of the 'knock 30 times' thing because it gives her lots of time to get to the door to greet me," he says.
At the beginning of his weekly run, Shields picks up supplies from the Meals On Wheels headquarters at Southwest 31st Avenue and Capitol Highway. Then he pulls up the app, slips his smartphone onto the device holder in his Jeep SUV and heads out to cover eight deliveries in a six-mile radius. It's not quite 11 a.m. and he'll spend the next 90 minutes making deliveries.
"This once-a-week schedule is perfect," he says.
When he first volunteered, Shields thought he'd be getting a less-predictable, on-call assignment. But a regular day and route opened up, so he's been locked into a routine from the start.
It's that routine that one of his apartment-dwelling clients appreciates, "The deliveries are regular and they give me the service of providing meals once a day, five days a week. And the meals are delicious," the man said, asking that his name not be used.
Meals On Wheels always needs volunteer drivers. Meals are delivered weekdays between 10:30 a.m.-noon. Drivers can volunteer once a week, once every other week, once a month, every day or whenever works for them. Many of the local volunteers are in the same age group as their clients.
A couple of studies done by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency, found that about two-third of seniors who volunteer report feeling less isolated. Another two-thirds of senior volunteers who reported a lack of companionship say they improved their social connections by volunteering.
For more information about volunteering for Meals On Wheels. call 503-736-6325 or visit mowp.org.