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CAP Agency site lead Julie Houck, forefront, and volunteer scheduler Mary Alice Wachter often have to drive for Meals on?Wheels because the number of available volunteers is decreasing.

Farmington's Meals on Wheels program needs drivers

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Mary Alice Wachter has a problem: the number of volunteers to drive for Farmington's Meals on Wheels program is decreasing, but the number of meals that have to be delivered is not.

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Wachter is the scheduler for Farmington's Meals on Wheels program. Meals on Wheels is a program of the Community Action Partnership, or CAP Agency, that delivers hot, well-balanced meals to homebound senior citizens.

Meals on Wheels delivers to approximately 35 seniors citizens in Farmington every day, Monday through Friday. The deliveries are broken down into three routes, each of which takes about an hour to complete. Broken out, that means Wachter has approximately 63 routes to fill over April -- three for each weekday of the month.

Right now, though, she's only got 52 drivers available and scheduled to take one of those routes. That means Wachter, delivers at least one, if not two, days a week. Sometimes, she delivers to more than just one route of residents. One time, she had to deliver all three routes in one day.

"By then end, the people on the last route were calling, wondering where their food was because it was so late," Wachter said.

She's looking for a handful of people -- maybe just four or five more -- to add to her driver list. Just a couple to help fill in the blanks, and to help Farmington's seniors get a warm, healthful meal.

Meals on Wheels

A graduate of Farmington High School, Wachter and her family moved away after she was married. When they returned to Farmington in 2003, she and her husband started participating at the Farmington Senior Center. It was there she was asked if she was interested in doing the scheduling for Meals on Wheels She decided to give it a try.

"I didn't know it meant I would be driving three to four times a week," she said.

For a long time, the CAP Agency used the kitchen facilities at the senior center to prepare food and fill containers. When Rambling River Center moved to its current location, though, CAP Agency had to find somewhere else to do the prep because the current site does not have a full kitchen. They were able to work out a contract with Farmington Lutheran Church.

Julie Houck is the site lead for the local Meals on Wheels program. She's the only paid employee involved in Farmington's program. Houck comes to the church every morning and puts the food into the oven. When it's done, she scoops it out into containers with lids, making sure to make enough meals for everyone who needs one. The containers are reusable, so after she's done filling containers, she washes the ones returned from earlier meals.

Houck, too, needs a hand in the kitchen. She's looking for someone to help for about an hour every day to help with the food prep and cleanup. She especially needs that help on the days Wachter comes up short for drivers, because more often than not, that means Houck will take a route, too.

Wachter and Houck know they're doing a good thing. For some of the seniors who receive meals, their delivery person is the only other human contact they will have for that day.

"They are so thrilled to see somebody," Houck said. "It's the highlight of their days. And, it's just kind of a welfare check, too. If there is a situation the driver thinks needs attention, we do have emergency contacts for the family members, too."

Volunteers

The number of volunteers available seems to ebb and flow, depending on the time of year. Over the winter, it's a little harder to get volunteers because many on Wachter's list are retired and winter in warmer state. Family vacations and activities over the summer also take a toll on the availability of drivers.

She's got one driver who will take up to four routes over a month. Students and staff from the IDEA School located in the Farmington library take a couple of routes during the school year, but they're not available when school is out.

Farmington resident Kristi Winkels started driving for Meals on Wheels while she was studying to become a dietician. Now she works in Northfield. She's seen what the lack of a balanced diet can do for a senior citizen, so she continues to deliver when she can. She brings her small son along on the routes, too.

"I think it's good for him to see that," she said, "It's kind of a way to teach him about helping people. And it's a pretty easy thing to do."

Wachter is thankful for the volunteers she has. Over the years, some of the more elderly drivers have delivered until they couldn't drive anymore. She's met a lot of very nice people through the program.

"I have had a lot of different, really nice people help out," she said. "I just need a few more."

Anyone interested in driving for Meals on Wheels should call Mary Alice Wachter at 651-463-3972. For more information on the CAP Agency's Meals on Wheels program, visit www.capagency.com, or call 952-402-9855.

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Michelle Leonard
Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and is the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 
(651) 702-0974
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