Meals on Wheels delivers year-round to people in need
by Laura Johnson
Nov 17, 2012 | 3070 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Participants in the Meals on Wheels program, like Gerry Arkontaky, may either pay a modest price for meals or receive them free of cost. Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star
Participants in the Meals on Wheels program, like Gerry Arkontaky, may either pay a modest price for meals or receive them free of cost. Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star
Richard Pope leads a busy lifestyle.

The 30-something Anniston native owns a family business, attends church, is married and has four children. But his schedule doesn’t keep him from helping people in need.

About once a week, he delivers lunches to people in the Wellborn area for Meals on Wheels, a charitable organization that provides home-delivered meals to people in need.

Pope is one of about 115 area residents who volunteer to deliver meals daily to people throughout Calhoun County. Many of the program participants are elderly. Some pay a modest price for the meals, and others receive them free of cost. But all have one thing in common: They can’t easily prepare meals or leave their homes to get food.

The meals for the Calhoun County arm of the program are prepared cafeteria-style at Stringfellow Memorial Hospital. There, the meals are placed on hard-plastic trays and loaded onto carts with sticky notes, denoting where they are to be delivered and whether the meal’s recipient has specific dietary needs.

Each day, volunteers show up at the cafeteria’s loading dock to collect meals and carry them in their personal vehicles to people across the area. Some of the volunteers hail from area businesses, some from churches and others, like Pope, are connected to the organization through civic involvement.

One of the program’s aims is to combat senior hunger, according to the organization’s national website, which lists Alabama as one of the 10 states with the highest rates of hunger among seniors. According to the site, 85 percent of Meals on Wheels clients say the program helps them eat healthier, and 93 percent of seniors in the program say it enables them to live in their own homes.

Pope found the program though his work on the board for Interfaith Ministries, which coordinates Meals on Wheels.

On a recent weekday, Pope covered a Meals on Wheels route, just as he or one of his employees at Business Systems Inc. have done every week for about two years.

About 10 trays — filled with chicken and gravy, fruit-filled Jell-O, rolls and green beans — were stacked in the back seat. A small Bible and a to-do list rested in the vehicle’s console, as Pope explained to a reporter why he does the work of a Meals on Wheels volunteer.

“I just feel like you ought to get involved and help where you can,” Pope said. “It just makes me feel thankful for what I have.”

Pope forgoes his lunch break to deliver this route, which usually includes between five and 10 meals and takes a little less than an hour to complete.

He stops briefly at each residence, spending about five minutes to get in and out of each home. He said he’s become familiar with the people he delivers to.

At the first home, Pope knows where to park — under the pre-fabricated carport. He knows, too, which door to knock on — the back.

At the second house on his route, he knows the resident — Gerry Arkontacky, the mother of one his employees — won’t be able to hear unless she has her hearing aid in.

“You definitely get to know them a little,” Pope said.

He learns, too, why some participants get by with help from Meals on Wheels. Lodrect McDonald, 87, began receiving meals from the organization not long after his wife died about three years ago.

McDonald is a WWII veteran. He still grows a small garden, makes his bed daily and drives occasionally, but after his wife died he said the quality of his meals went down. McDonald began getting by on fast food, or on meals of biscuits and bacon, which he would fix for himself.

McDonald’s hair is white. He sits with a stooped stature, and a cane rests on a small bed he keeps in the kitchen. Also in the ranch-style home are family photos — of a son he lost, of his diseased wife, of his parents and siblings.

“His spirits are always high,” Pope said. “He’s a prime example of being happy with what he has.”

Since discovering Meals on Wheels, McDonald’s diet has become more nutritious. “It’s much better, what I have now,” he said. “These people are good to me.”

The resident at the home of Pope’s fifth stop is also a widower, whose wife passed away after Pope began delivering meals two years ago. While that participant’s wife was still ill, he contemplated dropping one meal a day to help cover the cost of medication. Meals on Wheels, Pope said, didn’t let that happen.

The organization provided the couple with meals so they didn’t have to choose between buying food and buying medicine.

On the final stop, Pope greets an 80-year-old woman in a small home, its ceilings not much taller than he is. Inside the home, lopsided door frames give way to rooms with low-lying beds and a small crowded kitchen.

The owner recalled her working days, spent in chicken plants and car washes. Pope leaves an extra meal at her home.

“It saves money,” she says of Meals on Wheels. “I’d try to make it on my own.”

Pope leaves her home, gets in his truck and starts back toward the hospital to drop off the delivery trays. He said he hopes the program is able to expand to help more people.

“If there were more volunteers, more people would come forward,” Pope said.

Staff Writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.

To volunteer

• Meals on Wheels currently has a waiting list for persons who are in need of meals, but does not have enough volunteers to add delivery routes.

• Meals are delivered mid-day Monday through Friday.

• The organization prefers for two volunteers to drive a route together. They can accommodate volunteers who want to drive multiple days a week, one day a week or even alternate weeks. A pool of substitute drivers is also kept.

• To volunteer to deliver meals, contact Interfaith Ministries, 256-237-1472.

Meals on Wheels delivers year-round to people in need by Laura Johnson