WaLLi members volunteer with Meals on Wheels

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Linda Smith, right, delivers a meal to Diann Bailey of Cullman.

HANCEVILLE – Wallace State Lifelong Learning Institute (WaLLi) members and good friends Linda Smith and Pat Mitchell, each enjoy the activities and fellowship offered by the program. They love to socialize with other members, take classes and go on day-trips.

They also find a way to fit in some time to volunteer a few hours each week for the Meals on Wheels program, delivering hot lunches to homebound residents in and around Cullman. Both volunteers work out of the Cullman County Senior Center, which is one of eight full-time centers in the county that run the five-day-a-week meal delivery service.

Smith and Mitchell have been delivering Meals on Wheels for 15 months. After going on a couple of trips with the Cullman County Senior Center, Kristie McCarn asked the women if they would be interested in volunteering. After seeing how the program works, they agreed to volunteer. They began working as a tag-team of sorts, delivering meals each Wednesday and Thursday. If one can’t work the route, the other takes the route and vice-versa. Sometimes they’ll run the route together.  Sometimes, like most recently, they’ll take an extra route during the week to fill in gaps.

“The need for volunteers is so great,” Mitchell said, adding the duo ran more than a dozen routes in a week to help make up for the current shortfall of volunteers.

Smith said the routes take about two hours to complete at most. On a recent Thursday, she visited eight homes on her regular route. Two other stops were marked off that day as the residents were not home to accept their meals. Mitchell took another route that day to fill a slot where no other volunteer was available.

“I love the people,” she said. “It makes you feel so good to go out and help them.”

At each stop, they may spend about five or seven minutes chatting with the residents, making sure they’re okay.

“They’re so appreciative,” Smith said of those receiving the meals.

“Sometimes that’s the only person they’ll actually talk to all day,” said Dusty Baker, director of the Cullman County Commission on Aging, which runs the senior programs.

As one of 10 children, Smith said she was surprised at the number of homebound in the community who didn’t have family to help take care of them, or didn’t have family support of any kind.

“It just surprises me that there’s not family to take care of family, because I’ve always had such an extended family,” Smith said.

In some cases, the hot lunch delivered by volunteers like Smith and Mitchell is the only hot meal they get each day, as health issues may prevent them from being able to stand long enough to fix a healthy meal at their stove. Faster food options may not be the healthiest alternative.

The meals provided by Meals on Wheels are created to nutritionists’ standards and include protein, fiber, vegetable, dairy and fruit component.

“It’s very heartwarming, very fulfilling,” Smith said, “and it only takes two hours a day. It just warms your heart to see the gratitude that people feel for it. You go away feeling like you’ve been blessed.”

Mitchell agreed. “Sometimes we’re the only people that these people see, it’s been wonderful.”

The route also reintroduced Smith to Diann Bailey, with whom she used to work together with as medical technologists at Cullman Regional. The first day of her route, Smith said she recognized her name on the delivery sheet.

Bailey has been a Meals on Wheels client for two years. “It’s wonderful because I can’t stand up and fix my own food,” she said. “I’d probably be eating something out of the freezer, but it wouldn’t be anything like a rounded meal that they have.”

Both Smith and Mitchell said they would encourage their fellow WaLLi members or anyone who has the time to volunteer with the Meals on Wheels program. Prospective volunteers can fill out an application at any of the eight full-time senior centers that deliver meals. Once accepted, they will ride along with other volunteers to learn the process.

To volunteer or for more information about Meals on Wheels, contact the Cullman County Commission on Aging at 256-734-1241 or visit www.co.cullman.al.us/coa.

For more information about the WaLLi program visit www.wallacestate.edu/walli, call 256-352-7818 or email walli@wallacestate.edu.