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Meals on Wheels program in West View always in need of volunteers

| Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Randy Jarosz | For the McKnight Journal
Gene Getsy, 74, of Ross Township loads up his car Dec. 16, 2013, at North Hills United Presbyterian Church in West View to deliver Meals on Wheels orders. He has been volunteering for six years.
Randy Jarosz | For the McKnight Journal
Pat Balok, 72, of McCandless loads up her car Dec. 16, 2013, at North Hills United Presbyterian Church in West View to deliver Meals on Wheels orders. Pat Balok has been volunteering for three years.
Randy Jarosz | For the McKnight Journal
Bill English, 79, of Franklin Park leaves North Hills United Presbyterian Church in West View on Dec. 16 2013, to deliver Meals on Wheels orders. English has been volunteering for 13 years.
Randy Jarosz | For the McKnight Journal
Brian Shirey, 60, of Pittsburgh's Brighton Heights neighborhood leaves North Hills United Presbyterian Church in West View on Dec. 16 2013, to deliver Meals on Wheels orders. Shirey has been volunteering for 17 years.

The week before Christmas, Meals on Wheels in North Hills United Presbyterian Church in West View was bustling with five volunteers in the kitchen and 12 drivers ready to deliver packages with chicken dinners, pies and holiday “blizzard bags” that a local Girl Scout troop packed with emergency supplies, cookies and ornaments to give to about 80 local seniors citizens.

But as busy as the holiday season was in kitchens across the region where people gather to prepare and deliver food for the Meals on Wheels program, the program frequently sees significant decreases in volunteers at various points during the winter.

“We see an exceptionally large amount of dedication from our volunteers during the holidays,” said Elaine Kulman, coordinator at the Lutheran Service Society of Pittsburgh.

“However, a lot of our volunteers go to Florida for the winter months.”

The Lutheran Service Society oversees more than 30 Meals on Wheels kitchens in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and, Kulman said, all of them could use more volunteers.

“They (volunteers) are the backbone of Meals on Wheels,” she said.

The Lutheran Service Society's Meals on Wheels programs enlist 1,500 to 2,000 volunteers who deliver meals to about 700 senior citizens and provide company and check-ins on senior citizens living alone, Kulman said.

Meals on Wheels supervisors said most volunteers are retired and estimate the majority are between the ages of 60 and 85. Throughout the winter months, sickness and bad weather keep many volunteers at home, while others fly south for the winter.

For the West View center, which serves senior citizens in West View and parts of Ross Township and McCandless, the new year will bring a shortage of volunteers to drive meals to clients.

“They are really hurting ... They have signs up for drivers all the time,” Meals on Wheels driver Pat Balok, 72, of McCandless said.

“It's such a good program though because when I deliver, sometimes I'm the only one they (clients) see all day.”

At the Meals on Wheels program based out of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Pitcairn, volunteers are needed badly, and illness and death in some volunteers' families made staffing the Meals on Wheels kitchen during the holidays a challenge, said Erma Watts, supervisor of the program there.

“It's kind of been tough these last couple months,” said Watts. Watts, 81, of Pitcairn, has volunteered with Meals on Wheels for 30 years.

She said she has seen the local program's client and volunteer base fluctuate from year to year.

The Pitcairn kitchen serves 60 to 70 senior citizens in the borough and part of Monroeville each week with about 20 volunteers in the kitchen and behind the wheel.

The Meals on Wheels program based at Brentwood Presbyterian Church serves a small client base — 30 seniors in Brentwood, Pleasant Hills, Baldwin Borough and Pittsburgh's Carrick neighborhood. It has a strong core group of about 100 volunteers, some of whom work only a few times a month, said Janet March of Pleasant Hills, a supervisor of that program.

“Even so, we're always in need of volunteers,” she said.

Kelsey Shea is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or

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