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Central Texas Meals on Wheels facing severe volunteer shortage

Meals on Wheels Central Texas currently has twice as many openings for volunteers than this time last year. It's a drop-off that's concerning to staff.

AUSTIN, Texas — They help thousands of elderly and home-bound central Texans every day, but now they're having difficulty keeping up.

Meals on Wheels Central Texas currently has twice as many openings for volunteers than this time last year. The organization also has 75 open routes – the most they've had open in 15 years. 

"Every year around this time we always see a fluctuation of volunteers," said Thad Rosenfeld with Meals on Wheels. "We see it when school ends, when school picks back up, peoples' schedules change so they may not be able to deliver their meal route, but for some reason this year we have seen a lot of drop off in the number of volunteers." 

Rosenfeld said the organization relies on volunteers to deliver 93% of the 3,000 meals that are prepared each weekday. When there aren't enough volunteers, Meals on Wheels needs to use paid drivers to pick up the slack, which is extra money that ordinarily would go directly to clients.

"Our biggest concern is that we guarantee our clients they will receive a meal between 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. We don't miss. We're like the post office – we're gonna get there somehow, but it's just a time where the demand of our services is growing and we need more volunteers, not fewer," Rosenfeld said. "Right now, we have approximately 7,000 volunteers and that sounds like a lot – and it is – but a lot of them are members of corporate teams. That's the way a lot of people choose to do this." 

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Rosenfeld suggested for those who aren't sure if they can always commit to driving at least once a week to become substitute drivers. 

"We're also in dire need of substitute volunteers – people who don't have to deliver once a week, but we'll call them when a regularly scheduled volunteer can't make their route. They can say, 'yes' or 'no,'" Rosenfeld said. "So often the only people (clients) see on any given day is the person that is delivering their meal to them."

WATCH: Meals on Wheels looking for Austin volunteers

John Dora has been volunteering for Meals on Wheels for 27 years. 

"I got kind of attached to the people. I've been adopted about seven times, so at that point, I just love doing it. The people are amazing, you get all kind of history from way back when until present day. It's just awesome," Dora said. "Just do it, because it's a great opportunity, you can get a lot of fulfillment with it, you get to meet a lot of different people, and you meet people who have a history with Austin." 

Some of the people Dora gets to meet through volunteering are the Almendarez's. They have lived in Austin for 60 years. 

"It makes our day," Robert Almendarez said. 

"I can't cook no more, I can't do nothing," said Margaret Almendarez. "We really appreciate them." 

Here is a quick checklist for becoming a Meals on Wheels volunteer: 

  • You must be at least 18 years old
  • You must have a valid drivers license and liability insurance
  • If you have children, Rosenfeld said bringing them along for the volunteer experience is highly encouraged

Find out how to sign up and volunteer for Meals on Wheels.

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