Meals on Wheels student-volunteers deliver more than a meal

Mahanoy City, Pa.    Friday, March 22, 2019

Morgan DeWitt enjoys her visits with one Meals on Wheels client in particular. Every time she arrives, the 90-year-old woman dances around and tells her how happy she is to see her, inviting her to sit and talk.

“Volunteering for Meals on Wheels gives you perspective,” says DeWitt. “It is something that doesn’t take a lot of time, but it always makes you feel better afterward. You feel like you’ve done something small to help.”

DeWitt is just one of nearly 80 student volunteers with the Mahanoy Area Junior/Senior High School’s Interact Club who deliver meals twice a week to the older adults served by the program. The students share the responsibility throughout the year, with most delivering meals once or twice a month.

Their help is invaluable to the Meals on Wheels program, which was designed to meet the nutritional and social needs of at-risk home-bound seniors, says Susan Long, director of center services for Diakon Community Services in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. Meals on Wheels is one of numerous programs Diakon manages under contract with the Schuylkill County Office of Senior Services, with funding from the state Department of Aging.

“The in-home visits coupled with the program’s telephone reassurance calls help combat social isolation and can address safety hazards,” Long notes. “One hundred percent of our seniors report that Meals on Wheels helps them remain in their homes and have greater confidence living at home knowing someone other than family is checking on them and assuring their well-being.”

A reflection of its tight-knit community, the high school has promoted a culture of service since the 1980s, when the first students began volunteering for Meals on Wheels. While at one point as many as six schools in the area supplied volunteers, Mahanoy Area Junior/Senior High School is the only one that still supports the program.
“Our administration is very supportive of volunteer work and having our kids go out there and do things,” says Cheryl Fegley, advisor to the Interact Club. “They know the good behind it.”

“We were taught the right way. We are using that for good.”

The students also play an important role in the program’s continuation at the school, with most volunteering as soon as they are given the green light in their freshman year.

“The reason I joined Meals on Wheels is because it has always been what everyone talks about. It is a positive thing,” says Colin Fegley, who has volunteered for four years. “The upper-classes always talk about how much they enjoy it.”

Younger volunteers, in fact, look to those upper classes for direction, says Payton Martin. “They look up to us to guide them in what we’ve been doing since we were freshman,” she says. “Our school is very small and we know a lot of people, but volunteering for Meals on Wheels helps us build better relationships.”

Fegley also enjoys interacting with the people he sees at the senior center, where the students pick up the meals they deliver. “You can tell they are waiting for you to walk in the door. They want to know what you are doing [in school],” he says. “They look for all opportunities to support you. It is a good feeling.”

That mood continues when the students arrive at a client’s home, according to Cameron Jones.

Preparing to deliver meals to Meals on Wheels clients are, left to right, Tommy Price, Payton Martin, Danny Lawrence, Tony Merchlinsky and Emily Lawrence.

“It is really great to see how happy [the clients] get and how excited they are to have that interaction, especially with the younger people,” he says. “The elderly may have a viewpoint that we don’t care or do our best. But what they realize is there are people like us who go out of their way to make others happy.”

Bucking the teenage stereotype is common in this Schuylkill County school district, says Cheryl Fegley. “These kids have busy lives like all teenagers, but they take time out of their day to do what you ask them to do,” she says. “You don’t have to argue with them to devote their time.”

It is all part of giving back to the community that has supported them, Colin Fegley adds. “We’re in the position where we have had a lot of things given to us, and now we’re able to give that back to the community. We were taught the right way. We are using that for good.”

Volunteers from all walks of life drive the success of Meals on Wheels. Anyone interested in volunteering in Schuylkill County should contact Susan Long, director, Center Services, at (570) 624-3018.


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