Why she volunteers with Meals on Wheels: "It comes down to loving your neighbor."
In her role as information solutions training specialist for WesleyLife, Judy Bonnstetter is busy -- not just at the Network Support Center, but with all WesleyLife's Communities for Healthy Living. She travels weekly and often trains team members early in the morning or over lunch to accommodate a variety of schedules.
How does she find time, then, to answer the call to volunteer as a driver for WesleyLife Meals on Wheels when extra help is needed?
"I'm no busier than anyone else -- and it comes down to loving your neighbor," Judy said. "We made a commitment to the people we serve. I'm part of that commitment."
WesleyLife Meals on Wheels serves hot, healthy lunches to hundreds of older adults in central Iowa every day. As the need continues to grow, routes grow and expand, and extra volunteers are sometimes asked to help drive to ensure clients receive their meals in a timely fashion.
Whenever the Meals on Wheels team lets Network Support Center team members know they're short-handed, Judy and other team members check their schedules to see if they can spare some time away.
An average route takes about four hours door-to-door and includes loading the meals, desserts, beverages, and silverware at Meals on Wheels' headquarters near downtown Des Moines; delivering to 50-60 clients; and returning the Meals on Wheels vehicle to headquarters and unloading the carriers used to keep the meals warm and the beverages cold.
"If there's an urgent need, I try to make it so I can get my work done later in the day or in the evening," Judy said. "Ideally, if I remember, I reach out to the team at the beginning of the month and find out what days they think they might need help so I can plan."
In addition to helping to make sure people who need it receive a hot meal, Judy's favorite part of volunteering for Meals on Wheels is interacting with clients.
"In many cases, the Meals on Wheels driver is the only person some of these people see all day long," Judy said. "They really appreciate having someone look in on them to make sure they're OK, or just having someone to chat with for a few minutes about their lives or even about the weather. Among older people, loneliness can really impact their health, so if I can spare a few minutes to help them feel less lonely, how can I not do that?"
Brett Peterson, WesleyLife's director of community nutrition and transportation, said volunteers like Judy are vital to keeping the Meals on Wheels operation running smoothly.
"We have our staff and we have our regular volunteers, but a couple of things can happen: We have a bunch of people added to the routes at once -- and we're not going to say 'no' to people who need us -- or we have a bunch of drivers out, and during flu season, that's a real concern," Brett said. "My staff and I often drive routes ourselves, but having other team members who will help out is very much appreciated."
Judy looks forward to volunteering for Meals on Wheels -- not simply because she knows her help is needed, but because it makes her feel a larger part of WesleyLife's mission.
"When you deliver a meal and this person who has so little is so grateful and says, 'Thank you and God bless you,' that brings a tear to my eye," Judy said. "Knowing that as an organization, we're doing something this important every day is meaningful. And I find that the only regrets I have are the times I have the opportunity to help, and I don't."
Sign on to volunteer! If you or your organization would like to help deliver Meals on Wheels, please contact Sarah Underwood, WesleyLife's volunteer coordinator, at (515) 271-6765, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.