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Riding a Meals On Wheels route in Buffalo

Meals On Wheels of Western New York is on pace this year to serve 900,000 meals and the need continues to grow. 

The program was founded in 1969.  The first round of meals was delivered to 25 residents on Buffalo's West Side and that's where WBFO & AM-970's Eileen Buckley recently traveled as she road along with a longtime Meals on Wheels volunteer who serves elderly West Side residents.

Just before  the noon hour at the Richmond Summer Senior Center in Buffalo Meals on Wheels volunteers are busy preparing to deliver a round of meals to area seniors and the homebound. 

Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley
Portable oven inside Richmond Summer Senior Center where meals are organized for delivering

It's a very organized process. Volunteers load up their vehicles with coolers and portable hot ovens to keep foods at the proper temperatures. 

Judy Marine of Williamsville is a retired nurse.  She's been volunteering with Meals on Wheels for 23 years and allowed us to ride along on her route.  

"Well I love doing it, and when I didn't have any more responsibilities at home this was the first volunteer activity I started to do," said Marine.

Marine arrives at the first home on Highland Avenue off Elmwood.

Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley
Judy Marine prepares for Meals On Wheels delivery

"What we do is we  have a cold meal...for each person and their name is on the cold meal, the hot meals are coded," said Marine as she opened the back of her vehicle to begin her meal run.

Clients receive two meals during the noon hour.  Their hot meal for lunch and a colder meal for later that day.              

Gordon Sova, a widower, awaits the volunteers arrival for his meals each day.

But the volunteers provide more than just a well-rounded meal.   Marine speaks to the clients asking questions and making sure they are alert during her visit, for some, like 84-year-old Sova, who no longer drives and  doesn't cook , these meals are a life line and a chance to interact with another person.

"Many a times, I would have to say 99.9% they've come," said Sova.   "Where here for you?", said Marine.

"You bet you," said Sova. 

"You enjoy the food?", asked Marine.   "Yes, very nicely, everything was perfectly.  I couldn't ask for a better meal," noted Sova.  "It works out very, very nicely." 

"What would you do if you didn't have this?  I don't know, I don't know. I wouldn't know what to do," said Sova. 

Marine says Mr. Sova is consider a typical client -- he has nearby family, but they can't be there every day to care for him.

"Typical of the kind of client that we service," said Marine.

Marine's next stop is at a home Lancaster Avenue - the clients are a retired coupled. 

"Hi Mrs. Tomasulo."

Dr. Donald Tomasulo is trying to care for his wife Francis as she recovers from an illness.  She insisted on staying in her home they've lived in for about 50-years, and although they have nearby family, it takes the pressure off adult children to prepare meals.

"It comes in very handy, because I'm preparing the meals now so it relieves me of a lot of responsibilities and the food is excellent.  I'm going to volunteer when my wife gets a little better," said Dr. Tomasulo.

Mrs. Tomasulo sat with a smile on her face as a warm meal of macaroni & cheese and vegetables was placed in front of her as she sat at her kitchen table.

"It's a very handy thing. I'm enjoying it," said Mrs. Tomasulo. 

"Do you like the food?  I love the food.  I don't have to shop and I don't worry about the food, it's good food for me," said Mrs. Tomasulo.

All the meals are cooked at a service center on James E. Casey Drive n Buffalo. Volunteers deliver to 199 service routes Monday through Friday.     

"The need is growing exponentially.  We are on track to serve more meals than ever," said  Tara Ellis, president and CEO of Meals On Wheels.

We do the best we can to keep up with the demand and get the meals out as quickly as we can. But what does slow down is needing to get enough volunteers to be able to add new routes so that we can make sure we are delivering meals in a timely fashion and keeping our food safe," said Ellis.

Meals On Wheels is finding new volunteers through some corporations that are encouraging employees to volunteer their time. 

"The need is critical because there is a wait list. There's demand for service," said Rachel Leidenfrost,director of Strategic Communications.

"People are calling up every day,  and saying 'hi I'd like to go on service. I've heard about Meals On Wheels. the great work you do the quality of your food, the dietary options that you have to meet my health needs',  and then we need to find volunteers so that we can open those new routes and serve that need that has grown in that community," said Leidenfrost.

"Hi Mr. Jones, It's Meals On Wheels. I'm downstairs," said Marine.

Marine's last client lives in an apartment building so she has to call ahead to gain access, but no matter where Marine visits, she remains vigilant with each client.

"We never leave a meal without instructions," said Marine.

Volunteers like Judy Marine are priceless to the organization.