Volunteers make up the heart of the Meals on Wheels program. They are more than just the people driving and delivering the meals to people who might not otherwise get a hot lunch - they are friends.
"The best part (of volunteering) for me has been the smiles and warm reception each time I visit," said Donna Martin, a Meals on Wheels volunteer for about 16 years. "When they say 'I love you,' that is a feeling nothing else can compare to."
Martin is a runner for the Jersey Shore Senior Center program. She goes along with a driver, who waits in the car while she takes the food to the people. On one of her runs, as she delivered food to a woman, she called out for her like she normally did, but she did not receive a response. She kept calling out for her, but finally she heard "Help me, help me."
PHOTOS PROVIDED/LYNDSEY HEWITT/Sun-Gazette
Meals on Wheels volunteers package food before delivery at the senior center in the STEP?office of Aging building.
"I was very unsure, but she was crying and her dog was looking at me expectantly," Martin said. "I kept talking to the dog, assuring her I was only going to help. I found the lady on her bed, unable to get up because she was so dizzy. I told her I would call for help."
She found a Life Alert system, which called the police and EMTs. Thanks to Martin's help, the woman was fine.
"You just never know what you will find when you knock and enter the homes," Martin said. "The people say they are happy for the hot meals and the visits. My reply is that it is a wonderful service and I'm happy to help out because one day I might need this service and I hope it is still being offered."
The Success Through Engagement and Partnership (STEP) has five locations in Lycoming County, one of which is located in the STEP office building, 2138 Lincoln St. It also has three locations in Clinton County.
Meals are delivered Monday through Friday, something not every other county can do for those who need it.
"STEP could not provide daily Meals on Wheels delivery without the dedicated volunteers," Frederick Shrimp, STEP director, said.
There are seven routes, with two volunteers on each route.
Meals on Wheels recipients are 60 years and older who are homebound and unable to cook for themselves. Some people receive it short-term, while others receive it for a longer time.
"I started volunteering with Meals on Wheels because I thought I could make a difference with the people, but as it turned out, they bright my life by saying how they enjoy seeing me," said Vonnie Smith. "If you have the time, it's a very rewarding and ... fulfilling thing to do."
Volunteers can deliver meals as often as they would like. There are some volunteers who do it frequently, while others have their availability on an "as needed" basis.
Wilbur Lingle has been volunteering three days a week for 30 years.
"It does my heart good and it keeps me feeling young. It's good to know that I am needed," he said. "It gives me a giving cheerful spirit."
It is the happy meal recipients who make volunteering worth it for so many.
"The people are all very friendly and are so glad for the meals," said Donna Welshans, who has been a Meals on Wheel volunteer for about six years. "The expressions on their faces are so precious. I enjoy going out on Meals on Wheels. It is a lot of fun to talk to them and hear some of their stories."
The STEP Office of Aging Meals on Wheels program delivers more than 110,000 meals a year to more than 1,000 eligible people in the community.
That means that the more than 400 volunteers travel almost 150,000 miles and homebound seniors receive more than 250 visits per year.
"After I retired from West Co., the days were long," said Connie Eck. "My friend asked me about Meals on Wheels and because I always loved helping people and more(so), the elderly, I started being a volunteer."
Like with Martin, Eck has been there when someone needed her because of the program.
"One day I had a man down and had to call 911. Within five minutes, he had help to get him up. If we didn't deliver meals, who knows how long he would have been on the floor? His family thanked me and I was glad to know firsthand that it is important to be needed," Eck said.
Even in situations where no help is needed, Meals on Wheels recipients still appreciate the people who bring them food because they look forward to seeing someone each day, she added. "There are some special people that really get your heart."
"I do Meals on Wheels to give back, to make it a better life," said Jim Stabley, who has volunteered for 25 years.
For volunteer Schuyler Ramm, volunteering for Meals on Wheels gives him something to do and it works well because he enjoys talking to people.
"They look forward to seeing us and we look forward to seeing them. Jim (Stabley) got me involved and I hope to do it as long as I can," Ramm said.
Volunteers do not have to do it alone. They can go with friends or family if they wish. Parents can volunteer with children. Grandparents can bring their grandchildren. Even sisters can volunteer together.
Jane Hill and Sandra Ammerman are sisters who both volunteer for Meals on Wheels.
"We find it satisfying," said Jane Hill. "We bring sunshine and happiness into the life of other people. It is a good feeling."
Ray and Janet Confer, a husband and wife duo, have been volunteering together for about 10 years out of the Muncy Senior Center, but they are willing to split up and help singly where needed.
Since people can have regular routes, Ray said that volunteers get acquainted with the people receiving the meals and sympathize with their problems. Great satisfaction comes from helping those who can use it.
He said that it seems some people in the community may take Meals on Wheels for granted because, although they realize it happens, they do not realize what it takes to make it happen - more help is needed.
Anyone interested in volunteering can call the STEP Office of Aging in Williamsport at 570-323-3096 or the Lock Haven office at 570-858-5800.