Three times a week the Williams Lake Meals On Wheels program drives food out to elderly or needy people across the Cariboo, providing them with much-needed nutrition and support.
First started in 1989, Meal On Wheels is a community service made up of volunteers who work supported by community donations, a small operating grant from Interior Health and support from a wide range of fellow community organizations. For the reasonable price of $5.50 a meal, volunteers deliver meals prepared in the Cariboo Memorial Hospital’s kitchen to people in and around Williams Lake in a 15 km radius on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
All of this is possible thanks to the volunteers, of which the program currently has 13 drivers for, and organizer Sharon Taphorn. Taphorn was born and raised in the Cariboo and worked in nursing homes before an injury forced her to leave her job early. Wishing to stay busy and do some part-time work that benefited the community, Taphorn heard Meal On Wheels was looking for a new organizer five years ago and saw it as a fantastic way to continue to serve and applied shortly after.
Taphorn’s duties include co-ordinating the 13 drivers and some backup drivers by phoning them every few weeks to schedule them for specific days and routes. She also is in charge of the intake of new clients and scheduling them on both the meal plan and the drivers’ routes.
Every prospective driver goes through a criminal background check, as often times they enter a client’s house via a spare key or unlocked door. Most of their clients tend to be seniors, younger people with disabilities or people with injuries that make cooking hard or impossible. Currently, they service about 45 clients a month and will also occasionally provide food on a temporary basis to care homes in the area.
“(For them the program means) independence. They can stay in their home longer, some of them their families unplug their stoves so they can’t cook and they’d have to go into care and they don’t want to or aren’t ready for care,” Taphorn said. “I have one guy who keeps refusing and told me his next address was going to be the graveyard, if he didn’t have Meals on Wheels he’d have to order pizza and not have a nutritionally balanced meal or he’d starve.”
The food tends to be low sodium, cardiac ready and highly nutritious, Taphorn said and while they do have some trouble with more specialized diets like vegetarian, they do their best to accommodate everyone.
In addition to the food, having someone check up on the clients as many as three times a week can be beneficial for the client both mentally and physically. Taphorn said that nine times last year their drivers found people in states of distress and were able to send them to the hospital. While it’s not what they specifically do, Taphorn said it is something they provide on top of the food. Some of her volunteers often choose to sit down and visit with the clients, providing them with some needed social interaction.
“I have a great set of amazing volunteers that make a difference beyond just providing food,” Taphorn said.
Currently, she said they are in need of more backup drivers as many of their usual drivers are retired and naturally like to go off and do things in the summer months. Taphorn said applicants must have a drivers licence, a car and be willing to undergo a criminal background check available for a few hours a week. She said that she modifies the schedule to suit the drivers’ needs and provides training for new drivers as well.
“It’s a great service that we offer because I know there’s at least three days a week where I can make a difference in someone’s life and make them smile,” Taphorn said.
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Mary-Jo Hilyer, president of the board of directors of the Meal on Wheels Society, started as a driver 10 years ago and served as a permanent driver for three years until being invited to join the board six years ago. The board meets once every two months on the second Tuesday in the Deni House boardroom.
“I had a little spare time about 10 years ago and I wanted to give back to the community. I have always been interested in volunteering with seniors so I looked into helping out with Meals On Wheels,” Hilyer said.
Presently they’ve had a few board members leave as they’ve moved out of town and could use a few new ones to help fill out their ranks.
Hilyer said anyone interested in Meals On Wheels or in helping to facilitate the service they provide is welcome to join.
Currently, she said she could use four additional board members and welcomes anyone interested in applying to do so.
Those interested in volunteering in anyway can reach out to Taphorn or Hilyer at 250-398-8846.