A long-time program that delivers hot, nutritious food to elderly Nebraskans could soon be in jeopardy due to high gasoline prices. There are more than 100 Meals on Wheels outlets in Nebraska, but Lori Rankin, director of the program in Omaha-Council Bluffs, says if gas reaches the four-dollar mark, she may lose more of her drivers.
Rankin says: “People have commented if it hits four dollars, they probably will not be helping. They’re all volunteers. We have no paid deliverers. They’re all dedicated and I appreciate them so I don’t know what’s gonna’ happen.” Rankin says each volunteer drives a one-hour route to deliver 15 to 20 meals and there are hundreds of elderly people on the daily program in the Omaha metro area.
She says the volunteer drivers don’t get paid, but they do get great fringe benefits. “Some of those people that get the meals, it’s the only person they see every day and the volunteers feel like they’re helping and they assist with more than just meals, sometimes,” Rankin says. “They’ll open their dinner tray or bring in their mail and it makes them feel really good to help the elderly that can’t get out of their homes.”
Meal recipients are asked to contribute whatever they can afford, while Meals on Wheels gets modest state funding and local donations. Rankin fears what would happen to the program, and to the area’s elderly, if the volunteer pool dries up due to gasoline prices. She tries to offer the volunteer drivers encouragement. “We have a program here that they can also get some mileage reimbursement if they volunteer through other places too,” Rankin says. “I try to offer it just to, hopefully, they don’t leave when the gas gets too high. No we’re not in it for the money. We just like to help.”
For information on the nearest Meals on Wheels program, visit “www.mealcall.org”.