Special deliveries wheeled to residents

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 1, 2002

As we get older, even simple, everyday tasks can become challenging, such as cooking.

For seniors or anyone in Austin who is physically unable to cook or go to the grocery store, the Austin Hot Meals on Wheels program is there to help.

Dale Odegaard, chair of the program, said the goal of Meals on Wheels is "to deliver, five days a week, a well-balanced, nutritious noon meal to people who are ill, handicapped or temporarily incapacitated due to injury or surgery."

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The non-profit volunteer organization will celebrate its 30th year in Austin at the end of August and Odegaard says it has grown from two or three routes of a few people in need of meals to ten routes of seven to 15 people in need of meals, which totals nearly 30,000 meals each year. Meals are delivered year-round except on major holidays (New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas) or when the weather is especially bad. Routes are rarely canceled due to weather conditions, but when they are, the cancellations are announced on the television stations.

"This is not a small organization," Odegaard says. "It's much more complex than most people realize." Fifty drivers volunteer each week to deliver meals that are tailored at the Austin Medical Center, the ComforCare Good Samaritan Center and the Sacred Heart Care Center to the dietary needs of an ever-changing group of customers.

Thanks to a new cellular phone system, Odegaard says "people can cancel or start meals on a daily basis, though they must let us know by 8 p.m.," so the proper number of meals can be ready for delivery between 11:30 a.m. and 12:15 p.m.

Though none of the volunteers are paid and drivers aren't reimbursed for the gas their cars use when delivering the meals, Odegaard says the work is well worth it. "It's a wonderful feeling to deliver 15 meals to people. It's an excellent service, especially when you think that these people would not be able to stay in their homes if it weren't for this program," he says. "The drivers are sometimes the only contact these people have."

Though the service is limited to residents of Austin, Odegaard stresses "it's not just a service for senior citizens. We serve a wide range of people who are handicapped in some way."

Two of the program's customers are Joseph and Irma Werner. Irma says the couple decided to join five years ago because "we were getting elderly and it was …"

"Convenient," supplies Joseph.

"And we were sickly and it was difficult for us to take care of things," continues Irma. "Our health is not good and we really need it. We love it. We get through the noon meal so much easier. I don't know what we would do if we did not have it."

One meal, which is delivered once a day, costs $3.50. For more information about the program and what its restrictions are, call 438-3140.

Amanda L. Rohde can be reached at 434-2214 or by e-mail at amanda.rohde@austindailyherald.com