Students to head Meals on Wheels campus organization

Students and staff members are working together to bring the Meals on Wheels program to campus, expecting to establish an official student organization by this spring.

University faculty and staff have had a Meals on Wheels program for some time, said Melissa Gruver, coordinator for Community Involvement and a member of AmeriCorps VISTA, a national service program to fight poverty. When students expressed interest in participating, Gruver said she jumped at the chance to involve students.

Gruver said the purpose of Meals on Wheels is to provide hot, nutritious meals to those in need, mostly elderly people unable to leave their homes. Just as important, Gruver said, is the social interaction the program provides its clients.

“It’s fun to chat and see how their day is going,” Gruver said. “For some of these people, the Meals on Wheels volunteer is the only person they see all day.”

Lilly Frawley, a senior nutrition and dietetics major, and Andrea Drusch, a sophomore news-editorial journalism major, are helping with the planning of a student-run Meals on Wheels route. Frawley and Drusch said they are working to establish an official student organization by this spring.

Drusch said she is confident the program would be successful on campus.

“It’s appealing to a lot of students because it’s direct interaction with the people you’re helping,” she said.

The group gives students an opportunity to help an age group they rarely get to interact with otherwise, Gruver said. The experience is typically more beneficial for the students than the clients, she said.

“On campus, students are surrounded by their peers, so this exposes them to new people and gives them a chance to build relationships with older adults in Tarrant County, a group that’s not really represented on campus,” Gruver said.

The volunteers pick up food from a local Meals on Wheels site, drive to each client’s house and bring the day’s meals. Meals on Wheels encourages clients to pay for their meals, but payment is not required. The program is funded mostly through government funding and private donations.

One formal and one informal interest meeting have been conducted so far. Gruver said at least 25 students will be trained by the end of the week. Training includes a classroom session where Meals on Wheels employees explain the process, including how to tell which clients get which meals and who to contact when a client does not answer the door. The volunteers also have to accompany an experienced volunteer on their route before completing a route alone.

For now, faculty and students will work together on the route. In the future, however, Gruver said she plans for the students to take over the management of the route. She is unsure if this would mean managing their own route separate from the faculty, or taking over the faculty route.

Last week, two students accompanied Gruver on the faculty Meals on Wheels route. Gruver said many clients were excited to see young people volunteering for the program.

“One woman remarked on what a ‘good looking bunch of helpers’ we had that day, and another couple was excited to talk about TCU with us,” Gruver said.

Drusch said college students were entertaining for the clients.

“We offer clients a different perspective on life than just talking to other adults,” she said.

Gruver said she hopes even more students will be interested in volunteering, since the more volunteers there are, the more time each one has to interact with the clients. She said most clients value the social interaction just as much as the hot meal.

Abbey Brokos, SGA Dining Services Committee chair, said she thinks the committee is in a position to help the organization because both are food-related.

“Normally, SGA works to fix our problems on campus, so this would be a great opportunity to do some community service instead of helping ourselves all the time,” Brokos said.

The committee would mostly help with advertising and promotion, she said.