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Volunteers the lifeblood of Meals on Wheels

| Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, 5:17 a.m.
Gerard Pasquerell a driver and Mike DiCarlo a deliverer for Clairton meals on Wheels load there car. They are newcomers with around 1 years service. Cindy Shegan Keeley|Daily News
Lunches are being packed up at for Clairton Meals on Wheels. Gathered around the work station are from left Audrey Mihalko, 2 years service; Rob Zombek, site coordinator, Adeline Bodnar, 14 years; Genevieve DelVecchio, 15 years; Margaret Popko who is a 94 year old deliverer with 36 years service. Cindy Shegan Keeley|Daily News

Agnes Taulton knows she will get a friendly visit and a good meal every morning.

Taulton, 78, of Clairton is one of the clients of the Meals on Wheels program at First United Methodist Church along Thompson Avenue.

“Meals on Wheels is a blessing,” Taulton said. “I know them and they all respect me. They speak to me and ask me how I feel. They don't just come and throw that food at the door or leave it outside. They knock on that door and hand it to you and make sure that I'm all right for the day. They're very courteous and they all know me. I wish them well and I thank them. It's a very good thing.”

Taulton said she's had diabetes for 30 years, and her meals are designed to work with her diet.

“If it's time for me to eat then I have food already prepared,” Taulton said. “They give me the things that I need. They're good for my diet, and since I've been eating them I've lost weight.

“It's helping to keep us senior citizens alive and healthy because some of us would have nothing to eat or we'd have to eat (cereal) and milk. It's a good diet. It's healthy and it's taking good care of me.”

Clairton Meals on Wheels is a service of the Lutheran Service Society, which also delivers to Glassport and parts of West Mifflin, Jefferson Hills and Pleasant Hills.

About 55 Clairton volunteers coordinated by Ron Zombek serve 40 clients on four routes.

“Since he's been here, he's been very good,” Taulton said of Zombek. “He's doing a good job.”

Zombek said his group is in great need of more volunteers.

“This is a chance to serve people who have a real need for not only food but a visit, to see how they're doing each day,” Zombek said. “For some people, this is the only meal they have each day. Some people don't have a family, a friend or a neighbor. You're basically somebody's neighbor.”

Clients receive five hot meals per week for $20, or five hot meals and a daily sandwich for $30. They are delivered Monday through Friday between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m.

Gerald Pasquerell and Mike DiCarlo have volunteered together for about a year. Both have volunteered for numerous organizations over the years.

“We're both from Clairton so we know Clairton,” Pasquerell said. “We know the people. We know the streets. “We wish more children would sign up their parents for the program. It's a good program. It's a hot meal and a cold meal per day at a reasonable price.”

“They're happy to see us,” DiCarlo said. “They know what time we're coming. They wait for us.”

Volunteers call Meals on Wheels officials if a client cannot make it to the door. They in turn call an emergency contact person or local authorities to find out why.

Pasquerell said he had to make such a call two months ago, and a woman's life was saved when she was found on her kitchen floor. Two weeks ago, one of his clients was found to have a broken hip.

“The system worked,” Pasquerell said.

West Mifflin residents Bernie and Maxine Hollis have delivered meals from the Clairton site to clients in their borough for 10 years.

“You feel that you're doing good,” Bernie Hollis said. “A lot of the people really show their appreciation when you take food to them. They thank you, and at Christmas time they might give you candy.”

Bernie Hollis said his client list has dwindled since he and his wife began volunteering.

“For some reason we are having fewer people to deliver to,” he said. “I'm not sure of the reason. We had 22 on our route and now we're down to normally 10.”

Maxine Hollis, who learned about the volunteer opportunity through Lebanon Presbyterian Church, said she would like to see more people involved.

Margaret Popko, 94, of Clairton has delivered on the same city route every Tuesday for 36 years.

Popko started volunteering when her husband Andrew Popko passed away.

“It's my home,” Popko said. “I live here. I know all these ladies. They all go to the same church. We're like family.”

Adeline Bodnar, 91, of Clairton has volunteered in the kitchen since 1999, the year her husband Paul Bodnar died.

“I felt like I wanted to give back what the Department of Aging gave me,” she said.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or mdivittorio@tribweb.com.

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