Meals on Wheels fights hunger and loneliness

Community Outreach Director Arnette Read (far right) stands proudly with volunteers after they have packed meals for delivery. (Staff photo by Deja Finch)

With the holiday season approaching, many look forward to their once-a- year rituals, but this may not be accessible to everyone.

For 40 years, Meals on Wheels  has been combating food scarcity among Durham’s  senior population.

Community Outreach Director Arnette Read explained, “Usually clients are homebound, living alone, unable to cook, and unable to shop.”

For four decades, Meals on Wheels has impacted the community by delivering meals to the doors of senior and disabled citizens. MOW has aided in saving tax dollars by limiting the use of costly healthcare settings. Future clients can complete an application by contacting the organization or by referral. The organization’s “It’s more than a meal” tagline showcases a promise to remember seniors by maintaining their safety.

“It is a safety check. It’s a friendly hello,” said Read. Since a majority of clients live alone, a volunteer may be the only person they interact with on a daily basis. Clients may have children who live in other states, so their children rely on the organization. “A lot of  them (volunteers) deliver the same route on a regular basis, so they build a relationship,” said Read. Volunteers have prevented possible tragedies by notifying emergencies or caretakers if anything was out of the normal.

Located at 2522 Ross Rd., Meals on Wheels stands within a quiet neighborhood right here in the Bull City. Visitors encounter an open workspace filled with volunteers and staff. Past the common area,  lies a work space surrounded by special compartments holding the hot and cold meals. Non-perishable items such as soups and snacks are stored in a room next door. Each month, a set menu is provided with nutritionist approved options. Meals can be accommodated according a client’s medical needs or religion. All prepared meals are provided by a local caterer.

“While we are positive on the impact in  what we do has on the clients, we also are  positive in the impact it has on our volunteers,” said MOW Executive Director Gale Singer Adland.

Volunteers spend the mornings packing for the day’s deliveries. Only a six member staff, volunteers serve as the backbone of the organization tackling 450 meals a day. A van, nicknamed “Diane the Van,” was purchased earlier this year with a paid driver serving between  50 to 60 clients a day. Volunteers can deliver about 31 meals during their route. MOW has worked with Duke and N.C. Central students.

“They’re (seniors)  left out about a lot of thinking on urban planning, but for our clients we try to make sure folks are involved in some part of the community,” said MOW Operations Director Ian Harwood.

Funded by Durham Social Services and donations, a community effort is needed when aiding the most vulnerable.  MOW cures this by providing not only food but accessibility. Volunteers from Durham’s Habitat for Humanity installed doorbells for clients. The charity also builds handicapped devices such as ramps or shower bars.

A unique service that the entity provides is a pet food program. During a routine delivery three years ago, a volunteer voiced concerns that a client was feeding their meal to their pet.  Community partnerships have provided pet food donations. About ten local veterinarians aid in donations along with the Walmart on Glenn School Road.

This holiday season clients will not miss out, thanks to the “Adopt a Senior” program.  Seniors are asked to list their holiday wish, and local groups volunteer to purchase that itemm. Their wishes tend to be the most ordinary items such as winter wear or toiletries. This time of year calls for more volunteers. Many meals are prepared in advance to prevent clients from going hungry on the holiday.

“It’s not anything extravagant, its just simple things we often take for granted, and we’re happy to be able to provide that through the generosity of the our community,”said Read.

For infomation and to volunteer, please visit