How to Get Started as a Meals on Wheels Volunteer

Published March 30, 2020
meal delivery to the elderly

Do you have a passion for helping others? Volunteering for your local Meals on Wheels program is an excellent opportunity for individuals, workplace teams, and families to give back to their community by providing and delivering meals for those who are unable to do so for themselves.

How to Volunteer for Local Meals on Wheels

Every Meals on Wheels' program is community-based, so the service and operations of each may vary based on the resources and needs of their communities. However, all are committed to supporting the elderly and disabled by providing healthy meals and a safety check to individuals who are homebound. You can enter your zip code into the search tool on the Meals on Wheels website to find a program near you. Your local program can guide you as to how to get started volunteering.

Meals on Wheels Volunteer Guidelines and Opportunities

Most volunteer positions require the applicant to be at least 18 years of age. Younger volunteers require parental consent and must be supervised by an adult. Many programs require volunteer drivers to be at least 23 years of age. To ensure the safety of Meals on Wheels' recipients, certain volunteer positions require background checks. In particular, volunteer drivers, who have access to recipient's homes, must pass a background check.

Volunteer to Deliver Meals

The most significant volunteer need is delivering meals. These volunteers often use their own vehicles to deliver hot lunches to the homebound elderly and disabled within their community. The duties of these volunteers might also include providing bag meals, nutritional supplements, and pet food. When delivering to a client, volunteers take the meal inside, have some fun and friendly social interaction with the client to make sure they are okay and then report back any unusual circumstances. In this way, those who deliver meals for Meals on Wheels serve as a critical link between a socially isolated senior and the outside world.

Volunteer in the Kitchen

If you're looking for a way to volunteer that does not require operating a vehicle, you could volunteer behind-the-scenes where the meals are prepared. If you volunteer in the kitchen, your duties could include chopping vegetables, packing food for delivery, or other general kitchen duties.

Volunteer for Office Work

A program that cooks and delivers as many meals as Meals on Wheels is bound to need volunteers in the office to help the paid staff keep track of clients, schedule deliveries, plan meals, order supplies, etc.

How Long Is Your Volunteer Commitment?

The length of time you commitment to Meals on Wheels depends on your availability.

Long-Term Commitment

Positions such as delivery driving and kitchen work, most Meals on Wheels programs ask volunteers for at least a 6 months commitment, as these volunteers need to have more training and make a more emotional commitment to those they serve.

Volunteer Short-Term

Most Meals on Wheels programs can arrange for special projects volunteers. This could be helping out at special events such as a fair booth or exhibit, or perhaps putting together special meal items for holidays and other projects.

Volunteering for Meals on Wheels During a Health Crisis

Meals on Wheels takes steps to protect seniors on an ongoing basis. However, additional safety precautions are taken during a health crisis such as SARS or coronavirus. During a health crisis, Meals on Wheels follows CDC guidelines and institutes a "no contact" meals delivery system that safeguards both seniors and volunteers.

Volunteers needed banner design

Volunteer Duties During a Health Crisis

During a crisis, volunteer drivers leave meals on the doorstep, observe to make sure the client answers the door and takes the meal, and then make notations about each client. If the client doesn't answer the door or there's some other irregularity, it's reported back so medics can be called and families notified.

Meals on Wheels Needs Volunteers

Requests for home-delivered meals for seniors are on the uptick during a health crisis as vulnerable seniors begin to stay home. Also, because most of those who regularly volunteer at Meals on Wheels are seniors, there are also fewer volunteers. During these times many Meals on Wheels programs look for younger volunteers to help get their meals delivered to sheltered seniors who need them.

On-Call Volunteering

The amount of time you volunteer during a health crisis is usually very flexible. An excellent way for a healthy person to help during these difficult times is to become an on-call volunteer for Meals on Wheels.

Good Times and Bad

Through good times and bad, volunteering for Meals on Wheels isn't just about delivering meals. It's about compassionately caring for and checking in with those who always live in social isolation.

How to Get Started as a Meals on Wheels Volunteer