Norwin Meals on Wheels always could use more volunteers

| Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Girl Scout troops and grade school students from the Norwin area spent the weeks leading up to Christmas assembling holiday treat bags for the scores of senior citizens who depend on Meals on Wheels.

But the daily job of preparing and delivering hot meals to those who can't cook for themselves can pose a challenge during the winter months.

“It was wonderful to see these children helping out to make the holidays a little nicer for the people we serve,” said Jean Tromm, program director for the Norwin Area Meals on Wheels, an independent charity that operates out of New Hope Presbyterian Church in North Huntingdon.

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, programs frequently see 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.

While the Norwin Area Meals on Wheels has a list of 150 regular volunteers, it still can be tricky scheduling the dozen drivers needed to deliver meals to the 95 people the organization serves.

“Our volunteers are great, and we are so thankful to have them,” Tromm said. “But some of them are ‘snow birds' who head to Florida or other warmer states in the winter.”

Some volunteers, most of whom are retirees, are also reluctant to drive when the roads are slick or will call off if they know a client's sidewalk will not be cleared.

“If I think we're going to run short of drivers I'll start calling around to ask others to pitch in, and most times they will be more than willing to help out,” Tromm said. “But if I can't get enough people, I'll call my daughters and we'll do it.”

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 the 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, who has volunteered with Meals on Wheels for 30 years.

Watts, 81, of Pitcairn, 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 Tony LaRussa contributed to this report.

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