Volunteers needed to assist Meals on Wheels deliveries

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Erica Lewis is a volunteer with Meals on Wheels. Today, along with Robert Jenkins of the Pinellas Neighborly Care Network, she will be making a difference in the lives of others.

"I think it means a lot," said Lewis.

But there's not as many people volunteering as there used to be.

"We're in very dire straights, right now, for volunteers," said Sandi Narron, Public Relations Manager for the Neighborly Care Network of Pinellas County; they operate the Meals on Wheels program.

Lewis and Jenkins stop at the home of 88-year-old Stella Hairelson to deliver a hot meal. To Stella, seeing them makes her smile warmly.

When asked what it means to see them arrive at the house, she said, "Company. Somebody to see when you're sitting here doing nothing. It's good because you get to eat. You know you got one hot meal a day."

The meal is the reason for the visit. But the reward of human companionship is what volunteers truly bring. But with more than one thousand meals a day to deliver, the volunteer pool is reaching critically low levels. And lately, that's because of fuel costs

"When people call up and want to volunteer, when I have to tell them they have to buy their own gas, they can't do it," said Narron.

Those that rely on these meals are often one step away from a nursing home. And maintaining a sliver of independence is a thread they cling to.

"And it really would make me sad, you know, to see them close this program down. And I hope it doesn't happen," said Lewis as she rode between locations.

The Pinellas Meals on Wheels program has been around for forty-five years. In fact, it was the very first federally funded meals on wheels program in the country. And they need the community to come forward.

"We have nine different centers that our volunteers can go to to volunteer. They're all over Pinellas County. They range all the way from south St. Pete up to Tarpon. So, wherever you live, we have a place you can go to," explained Narron.

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