© 2024 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Meals on Wheels San Antonio needs delivery volunteers to return to hot meals for seniors

 A food delivery van for Meals on Wheels San Antonio sitting in the nonprofit's headquarters parking lot.
Josh Peck
Texas Public Radio
A Meals on Wheels San Antonio delivery van.

Meals on Wheels San Antonio (MOWSA) is suffering from a major deficit in delivery volunteers, which is preventing the food and nutrition nonprofit from serving its senior clientele regular hot meals.

MOWSA opened its new state-of-the-art headquarters Campus of Grace last November with the hope that a much larger kitchen and packing room would mean more free meals for seniors in San Antonio.

But a sharp decline in volunteers that began with the pandemic three years ago has persisted, and the organization doesn’t have enough consistent delivery drivers to serve hot meals, even though they have the kitchen capacity. Instead, MOWSA has continued to serve seniors frozen meals and relied on administrative staff to pick up delivery shifts on a weekly basis.

MOWSA Director of Marketing and Communications Ariana Barbour said the frozen food is still nutritious, but it doesn’t have the same impact as a hot, fresh meal.

“Hots are important because that warm meal can make just all the difference in the world,” she said. “Like it’s ready to eat immediately. We give it to a person, they’re that much more likely to actually sit down and eat it.”

 A cook doing vegetable prep work in the kitchen at Meals on Wheels San Antonio's headquarters.
Josh Peck
A cook working in the kitchen at Meals on Wheels San Antonio's headquarters.

MOWSA is able to deliver frozen meals with their limited delivery drivers because those meals can be left for longer at pickup points around the city without losing their quality, unlike hot meals.

Barbour said the problem with MOWSA relying on administrative staff to pick up delivery shifts is that it takes time from their actual work, which is essential to the continued operations of MOWSA.

“Without the volunteers, it just really makes it that much harder for us to do our regular day-to-day tasks and duties,” Barbour said. Those tasks include checking in on clients and onboarding more staff delivery drivers.

Barbour said their biggest source of volunteer loss has been from corporate groups. MOWSA is down from around 30 regular corporate volunteer groups to 12.

“We would be looking for at least, maybe 45 corporations, to get back to 5-day-a-week delivery, to be at max capacity for that portion of our volunteers,” she said. “And that made up about 40% of the volunteers that we had pre-pandemic.”

 Kitchen workers prepping meals in plastic containers on an assembly line in the kitchen of Meals on Wheels San Antonio's headquarters.
Josh Peck
Kitchen workers sealing meals for delivery at Meals on Wheels San Antonio.

But she said every little bit counts, even if one person can only volunteer once per month, especially if it’s consistent.

“Even once a month, every month of the year, it would be huge,” Barbour said. “It would be really really life changing for our clients, for us, for our future clients, and even for our other volunteers.”

She added that MOWSA is also looking to hire 10 more full-time staff delivery drivers.

She said volunteering for MOWSA was about more than just getting seniors nutritious food, and that it’s a deeply rewarding experience.

“You’re making a difference in their lives,” Barbour said. “You might be the only person that they see, and that’s a big deal. For some people, they say, ‘You’re an angel, thank you for delivering the food.’ I mean some of the things that they say when you deliver, you’re like, ‘All I’m doing is bringing you this food,’ but to them it means so much more.”

Individuals interested in volunteering can go to MOWSA’s website to fill out an application and schedule shifts. Organizations or corporate groups can call 210-735-5115 to talk through the process.

TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.