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National Volunteer Week: A Work of Heart

Spotlight on Meals on Wheels

By Jann Wiswall

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill

From April 12-18, the United States and Canada are celebrating National Volunteer Week. Of all the dedicated “weeks” that are promoted throughout each year, this is, arguably, the most important week of them all, since few of the myriad organizations that sponsor awareness weeks can do their work without the essential contributions of volunteers.

In Cattaraugus County, there are thousands of volunteer opportunities that can take a lot or just a little of your time. You can base your volunteering on your personal interests and passions, your available free time or any other reason. No matter what you do and how much time you can spare, you will be valued for your contributions. More importantly, you can make a difference in people’s lives.

To be sure, many organizations simply would not exist if not for their volunteers. One of the largest volunteer-dependent organizations in our region is Meals on Wheels (MOW).

MOW is staffed primarily by the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) – a network of volunteers that has federal, state and local funding support and is directed by the Cattaraugus County Department of the Aging. Through RSVP, volunteers age 55+ and older can find numerous opportunities to volunteer in libraries, schools, hospitals, museums and human service agencies, including MOW.

According to David Rodkey, the program’s director, “MOW had 260 volunteers over the past year who donated 15,000 hours of their time, using their own vehicles.” Together, they delivered about 107,000 meals to some 825 county residents age 60 and older who are unable to prepare or obtain meals on their own – often just temporarily. Volunteers typically have a route that serves 10-12 individuals. Some volunteers work one day a week, some more. The route varies from day to day and week to week because clients’ needs change.

The typical client is a senior who, due to an accident, surgery, illness or frailty is unable to prepare meals for themselves and does not have the long- or short-term support of family and friends who can help on a daily basis.

Referrals for seniors needing home-delivered meals come from families, doctors, hospitals, social workers and others. There is no income minimum or maximum; clients or their families may make a donation of $3.25 per meal if they are able.

Once a senior is identified, meal delivery can start as soon as needed – e.g. on the day of discharge from a hospital – and for as long as needed. Sometimes the need may only be for a week or two. Sometimes it could be for much longer. And sometimes it can be arranged to have meals delivered for the client’s caregiver, as well.

The Department of the Aging also immediately assigns a case worker to do a comprehensive assessment of the client’s needs. Often, Rodkey says, “we are able to find other programs for which the client is eligible – perhaps veterans benefits, free emergency beepers or prescription drug cost assistance.”

Because the need is so great and can change at a moment’s notice, there is always need for regular, occasional and substitute volunteers. If you have a few hours a week to spare and want to get to know and help some of the marvelous people who live in your community, becoming a Meals on Wheels volunteer could be the perfect job for you.

For information, call the Department of the Aging at 373-8032 or visit

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