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Food & Friendship

Volunteers prepare meals in the Bridgeville kitchen.

Meals on Wheels. The name pretty much says it all, right? Well, you might be surprised.

Beyond food, Southwest Meals on Wheels in Bridgeville is a built-in well-check service, notifying family members if a client is unable to answer the door and working with area law enforcement to find those missing. Sometimes not answering the door is just a miscommunication, like forgetting to cancel a delivery that conflicted with a hair appointment, said program manager Candy Mageras. Or it can mean someone needs help, and the organization’s professional staff immediately begin the process of finding that client to verify his or her safety.

Meals on Wheels is open to anyone 60 or older who is homebound and can’t shop for food. If you are younger than 60, but are recovering from surgery or otherwise incapacitated, you also qualify. The program has no income qualifier. Each delivery costs $7 and includes a hot lunch and a cold dinner; Friday deliveries include extra supplies for weekends. Every meal includes a protein, a starch and a vegetable donated by Trader Joe’s. Additional supplies are divided among individual customers who have foods they like or need, such as lactose-free milk for those with allergies or sweets for those with a particular fondness for them, Mageras says.

These services are available to anyone who requests them within a geographic diamond that includes Mt. Lebanon, Beechview, Upper St. Clair, Oakdale, Imperial and all the townships and boroughs in between. The group provides other value-added services that might not be expected, like monthly pet food delivery. In the winter, clients receive “blizzard bags” with three days of provisions, in case drivers can’t reach them. But even on blizzard days, the clients receive a phone call from Mageras. That’s more than 100 phone calls on the worst snow days.

Pennsylvania Avenue resident Sara Heald was one of about 60 volunteer drivers before moving from the area last year. A tax accountant who works from home, Heald had a flexible schedule that allowed her to devote one day a week to Meals on Wheels. She delivered to between five and 10 clients.

“They remember every single little thing I tell them,” she says. “My family is all spread out, and they remember what cities everyone is in.”

Donations are welcome. See a list of most-wanted items here [1].

The connection flows two ways, benefiting not just the clients but the volunteers, and becoming a volunteer is easy, says retired teacher Mike Kennedy, Summit Drive, who became a full-fledged delivery driver only a week after signing up. Kennedy believes that all he needed for success was a willingness to volunteer and his GPS. Volunteers can help one to five days each week, or they can become a substitute based on their own schedule, a role that is especially important in the winter months when many of the drivers who are retired head for Florida, Kennedy says. Kennedy helps his clients with big concerns like feeling lonely and small ones like patio furniture flipped over by the wind. In return, Kennedy says his clients give him a sense of purpose.

“Even though I’ve only known these people for a few months, I think we’re friends,” he says.

If you would like to volunteer or make a donation, call 412-279-5670, visit www.southwestmealsonwheels.org [2] or email southwestmow@gmail.com [3].

Photos by Linda Hackett