By Mary Angell, Cowboy State Daily
The sign out front says “Volunteers Needed.”
But that’s not exactly true for Meals on Wheels of Cheyenne. It’s just easier to fit on the sign than “We have enough volunteers to get by, but we could always use more.”
Like many charitable organizations, MOW relies heavily on volunteers. Volunteers not only deliver, but also prepare and package meals for the elderly, disabled and ill people in town who are unable to fix nutritious meals for themselves. In addition, volunteers sort through and tag items donated for sale in the Meals on Wheels Mart and staff the thrift store.
“Right now all of my routes each day have an assigned driver, but being volunteers, people travel, have surgery or go places during the cold weather, so we need substitute drivers who can fill in,” Merri Burkett, the organization’s volunteer coordinator, told the Cowboy State Daily.
“We have a small staff. We run everything on volunteers,” she said. “If we didn’t have all those volunteers, we couldn’t do any of this. There’s no way.”
Flexibility with schedules, opportunities to socialize with other volunteers and the satisfaction of helping other people keep MOW’s volunteer roster full, according to the volunteers themselves.
MOW has 25 routes in Cheyenne to deliver meals to its clients Monday through Friday. Because the volunteer pool is vital to its operation, it is fortunate that acquiring people to give of their time to MOW is pretty easy.
“Every once in a while, our director does a spot on the radio, and we have our sign out front, but for the most part, people come to us,” said Burkett, adding part of MOW’s recruitment success may be that volunteering is easy and the hours are flexible.
“We need a minimum of 25 drivers each day,” she said. “We’re very flexible with volunteers. They can deliver once a day, once a week, once a month or once in a while.”
Stephen Skokowski moved from Texas to Cheyenne after retirement. When he decided he should make better use of his time, he stopped at the MOW building he routinely drove past and spoke to a volunteer coordinator about being a driver. That was 18 years ago.
“She said I didn’t have to do it all five days a week. I could pick whatever day I wanted,” he said. “I went with the schedule that works best around my road trips.”
While many of the drivers are retirees, some have full-time jobs, so they’ll deliver during their lunch break. Because the routes are to clients within the same area, a typical route takes only about one to one and one-half hours to complete, including travel time.
Pat Graham, real estate broker and owner of Our323, delivers on Fridays and whenever MOW is short-handed throughout the week. A volunteer for 13 years, Graham said he does it because he gets satisfaction from helping and getting to know his clients.
“For a lot of these people, it’s less about the meals and more that they like to have someone to talk with them,” he said. “We (deliverers) benefit as well.”
“I think it’s a feel-good thing,” said Burkett, “that (volunteers) are out there helping someone, even though they may be in the person’s house for five minutes or less.”
“I get to meet people with different backgrounds and talk to them,” Skokowski said. “I spend an extra five minutes (with clients) to ask how they’re doing.”
Burkett said MOW volunteers are very dedicated.
“Some volunteers are older than some of their clients,” she said, referring to her father, Flloyd Osborn, 86, who delivers twice a week. “I think a lot of them do it to keep them going, keep them active. They want to help somebody.”
Finally, MOW volunteers get an opportunity to make friends with other volunteers. A certain camaraderie develops among the drivers who chat as they wait for their clients’ meals to be prepared for delivery.
“For some of them, I think this is their McDonald’s coffee hour,” said Burkett.
Volunteers are always needed for delivery drivers and the thrift store, she said.
For more information or to volunteer at Meals on Wheels, contact her at (307) 635-5542 or firstname.lastname@example.org.