HALLOWELL — At 9 a.m. on a recent Friday, Dave Fuller closed the tailgate of his van and drove off from the Cohen Community Center in Hallowell to begin his 70-mile route delivering meals to seniors in central Maine.
Fuller isn’t just a volunteer who brings meals to the 11 people he visits each week. He has become someone they can talk to, someone who can help them with necessary tasks, someone they have learned to rely on, and even someone who can test homemade treats given to them by a woman on her way.
“Last time was fudge,” said Fuller, who had the container cleaned and ready to return this week. “Now it’s meatballs.”
Without Fuller and the other volunteers who donate their time to Spectrum Generations’ Meals on Wheels program, it wouldn’t be as successful as it is, consistently providing 1,100 meals a week in central Maine.
Fuller offers a very varied itinerary, with stops in Vienna, Mount Vernon, Wayne and Fayette.
“Believe it or not,” he said, “it’s the shortest way.”
Although the program has a strong and thriving volunteer base, its leaders are still concerned about volunteer fatigue, rising gas prices, and inflation driving up the cost of groceries and other items. As Spectrum Generations reimburses volunteers for the miles they walk, officials said in the future, there could be a pinch when it comes to finding people who can help.
“It’s a great feeling to be able to help people who need help, and I get to know them, I become friends with them — and I love that,” Fuller said.
Most people who volunteer have done so for many years in different ways. Fuller and his wife also help people at Spectrum Generations with their tax returns.
John Lord volunteered with Meals on Wheels for 20 years, which started after he retired and thought, “I should do something. He now volunteers his time on Wednesdays and Fridays to pack meals in coolers.
Lord was joined by Wilfred Boulger and Dick Godbout, who volunteer alongside Lord every morning.
“It gets us out of the house, says Godbout, and that’s a good reason to get up.
Meals on Wheels has been around for over 50 years and is federally funded and operated by Spectrum Generations. There are five aging agencies in Maine that offer Meals on Wheels.
Lindsay MacDonald, c.director of community engagement for Spectrum Generations, said the organization is funded by the state and federal government and must have a broad volunteer base. The organization is also funded by private donations, and for every 25 cents raised, the US government donates $1 in federal money.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Meals on Wheels program delivered meals to approximately 800 households and had approximately 300 people on the waitlist.
When the pandemic hit, the program used additional funds to expand its range and now regularly delivers meals to around 1,100 households.
MacDonald said the program provides about 70,000 meals a year, worth more than $500,000.
“It increased during the pandemic because people were self-isolating and not going to stores,” said Gerard Queally, president and CEO of Spectrum Generations. “The demand is stable and I don’t think it will increase significantly, but it will not decrease. We must maintain this level of service for at least a long time.
Most people who rely on Meals on Wheels are housebound. They do not drive, cannot drive or do not have a vehicle. Some people may be recovering from surgery or simply cannot afford to eat. Forr those who live in certain communities, like Vienna or Mount Vernon, the nearest grocery store may be 15 or 20 miles away.
About 75% of Spectrum Generations weekly interactions are through Meals on Wheels volunteers, according to a survey by the organization.
Recipient Gloria Kelley said she “really enjoyed” the program, which allows her to have home-cooked meals. She said she tried to continue cooking for herself, but found it difficult due to her back problems.
Kelley, whose home is halfway along Fuller’s delivery route, said she learned how to use Meals on Wheels from a friend. Prior to this, Kelley knew about the program, but didn’t know how to get involved.
“It saves me a lot of work,” said Kelley, who lives in Vienna since 1944. “I had trouble making meals.”
People involved in Meals on Wheels usually learn about it through word of mouth, social workers, or information from municipal offices.
Those interested in volunteering should call 207-620-1187 in Greater Augusta or 207-660-9263 in Greater Waterville.
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