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The Meals on Wheels program at LifePath, which brings home-delivered meals and a daily check-in to homebound elders across Franklin County and the North Quabbin region, received a $3,500 opportunity-based grant from Subaru of America. The grant was distributed by the Meals on Wheels Association of America (MOWAA). The award money was used to purchase ten new “Electric Thermal Bags” from the Meals on Wheels Store, a meal delivery equipment provider founded in 1977 with an international service area that coincidentally is headquartered at the Turners Falls industrial park.

Nutrition Program Director Jane Severance and Community Services Director Lynne Feldman balance one of ten new electric thermal bags atop Lynne's Subaru.Nutrition Program Director Jane Severance and Community Services Director Lynne Feldman balance one of ten new electric thermal bags for Meals on Wheels deliveries purchased with the $3,500 grant.“If the bags work well, and we’re able to integrate them into our process, we hope to buy more,” says Lynne Feldman, Directory of Community Services at LifePath. “With 33 routes serving about 500 elders each day, efficiency is key.”

Before, the meals were kept hot by packing them in coolers with bricks heated in an oven. The new bags will be lighter for drivers to move, and kitchen staff will no longer need to handle hot, heavy bricks. No longer using bricks saves a step in the production process and saves energy as well.

“Just lightening up the coolers without bricks will be huge,” says Charlotte Weltzin, co-manager of the Meals on Wheels kitchen in Erving.

One volunteer driver "absolutely loved the cooler" when she used it on her long route across Franklin County, says Sue Tidlund, the other co-manager at the kitchen. "These are going to work out really well!"

The agency is also participating in MOWAA and Subaru of America’s national, year-end, “Share the Love” event, designed as a way for Subaru retailers to give back to their local communities, making LifePath’s Meals on Wheels program eligible to earn grants of up to $35,000. By the end of this, the seventh “Share the Love” event, Subaru will have donated $50 million to charity over the past six years – including the delivery of one million meals to seniors in need.

Take a ride with a Meals on Wheels driver

Doug Riddell of Athol, MA, is in his tenth year as a volunteer driver with Meals on Wheels. Doug got started with the Meals on Wheels program after a friend recommended it. “I tried it and I liked it,” he says, so he’s continued to volunteer for a few hours each day of the week, Monday through Friday.

Doug RiddellWith a thermal bag full of 20 hot lunches and plugged into the accessory outlet, Meals on Wheels volunteer driver Doug Riddell is ready to deliver the meals to area elders.Tuesday, December 30, 2014, was Doug's first time out with the new thermal bags. At about 10:20, a.m., he carried a loaded bag from the central Meals on Wheels kitchen out to his Toyota and plugged the bag’s cord into the accessory outlet. The bag warms up to 160 degrees in 15 to 20 minutes, keeping the 20 meals it contains at a hot, safe temperature even on long-distance rides. One driver’s route covers over 67 miles across the service region to the West County, but Doug's route starts closer to home.

When Doug pulled up the driveway at his first stop, he reached across and grabbed a hot meal, then got out of his car and walked up the porch steps and into the house to spend a moment with the elder. He repeated this process with each stop, and each elder smiled when they saw him and received their meal.

Everyone depends on someone important to them to deliver this meal, says Doug, but the impact often goes even deeper. “Sometimes, for a few of them, I’m the only person they see all day.”

Fran GreenwoodFran Greenwood of Millers Falls is happy to receive her hot lunch from volunteer driver Doug Riddell.Charlotte sees the value of the relationship between the drivers and the elders they deliver meals to each day. “Just being able to check on them everyday,” she says, could save someone’s life.

Drivers interact with the recipients on a regular basis and notice when something seems off. If they have a concern, they can report it back to one of the managers.

“When someone has an exceptionally bad day, we can call the family” or an emergency contact, says Sue.

And Meals on Wheels drivers will always check-in with each person on their list. “If you’re not there, we find you,” says Charlotte.

Volunteer drivers are needed

Meals on Wheels is always seeking more volunteer drivers to help deliver meals. The commitment can be whatever you choose to offer, and volunteer drivers receive a stipend and mileage reimbursement in exchange for their time.

“It’s a good opportunity to get out and meet people and hear different life stories,” says Doug.

If you think that volunteering with Meals on Wheels could be the meaningful work that you’ve been looking for, now is the time to get started. Volunteer drivers are currently needed in towns across Franklin County and the North Quabbin region, and the community with greatest need is around Athol and Orange.

New volunteers quickly become part of the special Meals on Wheels community. “Once they’re here,” says Charlotte, “they just see what a good thing it is and they just keep doing it.”

If you have transportation and a couple of hours midmorning to deliver meals, give LifePath a call at 413-773-5555 x2272 or 978-544-2259 x2272 or email us. You can make a difference.

Read more about Meals on Wheels.