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Meet Meals on Wheels of Fullerton

Recently, I received an email from Sandra White, President of Meals on Wheels of Fullerton. She invited me to accompany her on one of the non-profit organization’s seven routes to help serve meals daily to those in need here in Fullerton. I was more than happy to help.

For those who are not familiar with Meals on Wheels, it is a non-profit, volunteer organization, which provides low cost meals to people who are homebound and unable to shop for groceries or prepare their own meals. An important benefit of the program is the daily contact that the volunteers have with those who may be elderly, convalescing, or living alone. More than half of their clients receive financial assistance for the cost of their meals. Besides discovering emergency situations, the program’s meal deliveries provide many clients with the opportunity of staying in their own home; thus enabling them to be independent rather than institutionalized. In 2019, Meals on Wheels celebrated 46 years of service to the Fullerton community.

In 1973, Fullerton Community Hospital approached the Volunteer Center of North Orange County and offered to help develop a “Meals on Wheels” program. The Volunteer Center coordinated with National Charity League, the Ebell Club, and the Red Cross, and on February 25, 1974, the first meal was delivered. Clients were referred by physicians or self-referred and service was limited to Fullerton residents. Volunteers were trained, hot boxes were purchased and the program was ready to start. The program began with 13 clients and 128 volunteers.

In the 1980s, Assistance League of Fullerton began contributing to the Meals on Wheels program by funding their office rent and utilities. In 1995, Meals on Wheels moved into the Assistance League of Fullerton philanthropy building to share space with the Operation School Bell program.

Meals on Wheels has been allied with the Fullerton Chapter of National Charity League (NCL) since the beginning in 1974. Annually, NCL provides them with financial support. Each NCL member drives multiple delivery routes per year. In fact, NCL Member daughters in grades 7-12 accompany their mothers on deliveries during the summer and school vacations. They also provide useful birthday gifts and holiday favors for Meals on Wheels clients throughout the year.

Since 1974, Meals on Wheels of Fullerton has delivered 1,683,440 meals. As of July 10, 2019, there are 250 volunteers serving and delivering meals at noon on Mondays through Fridays on seven routes to a total of 84 clients. However, they can always use more helpers. Most volunteers deliver meals once a month and many deliver as a pair, going out with a friend, neighbor, or another volunteer, and can choose to be a driver or a rider.

On Friday, February 21, I went as a rider with Sandra. We first met at the organization’s office, which was right next door to the Assistance League Thrift store and across from the Fullerton Police Department parking lot in a green craftsman style house. Stepping inside, I was greeted by Sandra and a few other volunteers who were just getting ready to go on their routes.

“Volunteers need to be in the office between 10:45 and 11:00 am to pick up the ice chest, hot box, and route book,” Sandra said. “The route book includes all of the clients, with directions from one client to the next, almost block by block so that our volunteers have an easy time finding them. They go through the entire route book, and when they get to the end, the route is done. And there are notes sometimes in the book to indicate that this client is off for today, so that we don’t deliver on the route there.”

Sandra explained, “After we’ve gotten our book at St. Jude, we take an empty ice chest up to the kitchen door and they have the meals in an ice chest up there. We transfer from their ice chest to ours so we don’t have to return to St. Jude at the end of the route, and it saves easily twenty minutes.”

I learned that Meals on Wheels has two different food sources—St. Jude Medical Center, and Community SeniorServ (now Meals on Wheels Orange County)—which allows volunteers to provide specialized diets for dialysis, cardiac, and diabetic individuals, something many other meal delivery programs cannot do.

After helping Sandra to haul the ice box and hot box from the office to her car, we drove to the loading dock area in back of St. Jude. As we were driving, I asked Sandra how she got involved with Meals on Wheels.

“I joined the Fullerton Chapter of National Charity League in 1986,” she said. “I was really interested in belonging because their main philanthropy is Meals on Wheels and it’s just a wonderful working relationship with that organization. It gives a really nice introduction for young people into community service, so I wanted my daughter to have that opportunity. After my daughter graduated from high school, I just stayed on as a volunteer, delivering meals. Then, I joined the board in 1995 and I’ve been there ever since.”

Arriving at St. Jude, we transferred the meals from the hot and cold boxes that St. Jude had provided the volunteers. I learned from Sandra that on Thanksgiving and Christmas, St. Jude donates meals to Meals on Wheels clients who won’t be with their family or don’t have anywhere to go. Volunteers really like to deliver those holiday meals and bring a little extra holiday cheer to some of Meals on Wheels’ most disadvantaged clients. After checking to make sure we had the right number of meals, we were on our way.

Sandra told me to imagine the City of Fullerton as a rectangle that had been divided into seven sections. “We arrange routes throughout Fullerton so that they’re fairly compact,” she said. The route we were on was the east side of Fullerton.

First on our route was a lovely couple by the names of Pablo and Maria, who had given permission to Sandra over the phone for their picture to be taken. As we were walking to their front door, Sandra explained that the Meals on Wheels case worker plans out the lay of the land so that the volunteers know where to park. Both Pablo and Maria were so happy to receive the meals we handed to them.

Sandra White, President of Meals on Wheels of Fullerton, handing a meal to Pablo and Maria.

It was a very fulfilling experience to see the looks on all the different clients’ faces as Sandra and I hand-delivered food to each of them.

“Besides bringing the food to our clients, one of the main goals that we sometimes have is to make a daily visit to our clients to check on them to make sure everything is okay and answer the door and make sure they get their meals,” Sandra said. “If they don’t answer the door, we keep trying at the office until we make contact with the client or we call a family member.”

Meals on Wheels has had the Fullerton Police Department do welfare checks on some of their clients because they could not reach them and they did not have any family members who could check on  them.

Sandra said, “The police do a wonderful job of doing those kinds of checks and helping out if there is a real emergency inside the client’s house. Sometimes they will talk to the neighbors and the neighbors will say, ‘Oh, he went on a little weekend trip with his grandson or something.’ So then, we’re really relieved that we don’t have to meet that medical emergency. But every once in a while, that happens.” The Fullerton Fire Department will also step in to help seniors who fall and are not hurt; they are just unable to get up by themselves. “If we call them, they will come and do what we call an assisted lift. They help someone whose ability is very restricted, help them get back up and sit in their chair and that is a wonderful service,” Sandra said.

Fortunately, no emergencies happened on our route. However, we had to make phone calls to a few who were hard of hearing before they answered their doors. Some of the clients on the route were very sociable and were happy to have us listen to their stories. As we were driving, Sandra said, “Working on Meals on Wheels, I’ve discovered neighborhoods that I didn’t even know were around.” Overall, it was a very satisfying trip that took about an hour-anda-half and allowed me to give back to the community. At the end, we returned back to the office.

The following day, I was invited to attend the Meals on Wheels Empty Bowls Luncheon, a fundraising event designed to help bring the community together. Entrants pay a thirty dollar donation and receive in return a handcrafted bowl and a hearty meal of soup. It was the perfect day to have soup since it was raining outside. All the bowls had been neatly laid out on a series of tables. “The square bowls on the table were painted by the National Charity League teenage girls, who came to the Muckenthaler one evening to help paint bowls for our Empty Bowl Fundraiser,” said Sandra. “The Muckenthaler ceramics teacher allows us an evening to come and do that painting. Then he fires the bowls in their kiln. It’s a really fun evening to go and paint.”

At the “Empty Bowls” fundraiser for Meals on Wheels.

Sandra introduced me to Melanie, who has been creating bowls for Meals on Wheels since their very first Empty Bowls Luncheon.

“Sometimes what she does is take the leftover clay that’s from classes, and repurposes it so nothing gets wasted and makes her bowls. She’s working on them all year long and brings us an excess of a hundred bowls usually each year, so she’s a really wonderful supporter.” I also met other artists and members of the community from Fullerton College and Cal State Fullerton who were just as involved with making and donating bowls. Sandra introduced me to a number of individuals who were all dedicated to doing good in Fullerton and long-time readers of the Fullerton Observer. I was allowed to have a bowl for myself, so I chose one made by the CSUF Ceramics club with a red and white pattern to take home.

For lunch, I ate the chicken tortilla soup from El Farolito Jr. and it was mighty tasty. But there were other amazing soups and fabulous lunch options from other restaurants around Fullerton, including The Olde Ship, Bourbon Street, Heroes Bar & Grill and Leadbelly’s Barbeque. Overall, I had a splendid time hanging out with members of the community, enjoying a nice warm meal and taking home a bowl as a reminder.

Handmade bowls for “Empty Bowls” fundraiser.

To see what’s it’s really like to volunteer for Meals on Wheels and to get an inside look at their Empty Bowls Luncheon, check out my video by visiting http://www.fullertonobserver.com and clicking the tab labeled “Local.” Underneath that tab, click on “Emerson Little YouTube Channel,” which will take you directly to my page.

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