• September 17, 2019

Meals on Wheels still looking for drivers - Odessa American: Local News

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Meals on Wheels still looking for drivers

Seasons, cost of living cited as reasons for shortage

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Posted: Monday, August 5, 2019 4:00 am

For Vanjie Buford, giving back to the community has always been important to her.

Even as a child, Buford said she would give back to her community in some way, adding she still donates to St. Jude’s Children Hospital when she can. By giving back to the community, Buford said people can become better citizens while at the same time, make a positive change in someone’s life.

As the program director for Camp Fire West Texas, Buford said their annual summer camp volunteers to deliver meals once a week for Meals on Wheels in Odessa. This year, the group of children in the older age group — between the ages of 10 and 12 years old — have been accompanying their counselors on Thursdays to deliver meals.

Since the camp has been active with Meals on Wheels, Buford said the younger children watch as the older groups get ready to go on the routes, and get excited about the opportunity to go out on their own routes someday.

“We’ve been doing it for a good 10 years,” Buford said. “We want to teach the kids to give back to the community.”

Buford said the children are responsible for not only helping get the meals from Meals on Wheels before the routes, but are also responsible for going to the door to make the delivery. The children enjoy it, and Buford said there have been times when the participants have been prepared for the children’s arrival — usually with snacks and warm greetings.

But the summer camp and the children only do the deliveries during the summer months, and once the children go back to school, that leaves Odessa Meals on Wheels short on those routes.

Margaret Burton, executive director for Meals on Wheels Odessa, said the organization is currently serving about 502 people. To deliver all those meals, Burton said she needs at least 150 drivers a week. There are times, she added, when she has difficulty finding drivers to meet the needs of their clients.

To help meet those numbers, Burton said churches, local organizations, and businesses, have all volunteered to deliver meals on a route when they can. Some businesses will have employees pick up the food at the Meals on Wheels headquarters and make the deliveries to the clients who live nearby work, helping fill some of those routes for the nonprofit.

Meals are delivered on a volunteer basis, and Burton said most of the volunteers are individuals donating time when they can. Many of those who do volunteer with Meals on Meals, Burton said, are college students and older individuals. But during the summer months when those students go on break, or those with families take vacations, routes can go without drivers.

“It’s a lot to ask of people,” Burton said.

Another reason Burton said people may not be able to volunteer for the program is because of the high cost of living in the Permian Basin. According to ALN Apartment Data, which gathers the average price of monthly rents in Texas and across the nation, stated the average monthly cost of an apartment in the Odessa-Midland area is more than $1,500.

“Everyone is working nowadays,” Burton said. “They have to work. Living out here is expensive.”

But while the oilfield has also brought numerous people and money into the Permian Basin, Burton said the nonprofit’s biggest event, the annual Mudbug fundraiser, was not as successful has it has been in the past.

During their scheduled meeting on May 28, the Odessa City Council also allocated $45,000 to Meals on Wheels through the Community Development Block Grant funds to help the nonprofit.

“We had the worst year we ever had,” Burton said. “We made maybe $100,000, but we should have made more.”

Burton said board members with Meals on Wheels are currently exploring other fundraising options and are also reviewing possible changes to Mudbug. Burton said the fundraiser is not going anywhere, and the tweaks would be small.

While the board continues to explore fundraising options, Burton said the organization continues to rely on their volunteers.

One of the volunteers who continues to donate his time is William Vanderzyden, a mathematics instructor with Odessa College.

A resident of Stanton, Vanderzyden has been delivering meals for Meals on Wheels for 13 months and runs his routes before going to teach his classes.

Before getting involved with Meals on Wheels, Vanderzyden said he and his daughter helped deliver Thanksgiving meals in Midland, and added he also volunteers with Autism Speaks.

Wanting to get more involved with the Odessa community, Vanderzyden said Odessa College President Gregory Williams has encouraged more involvement from the staff, and he took that encouragement to heart.

“Dr. Williams has instilled in us and fostered that we need to give back to the community,” he said. “It’s our responsibility. I’m here every day in Odessa, so I thought I would give back to the community.”

During his routes, Vanderzyden said he sees the difficulties the recipients of Meals on Wheels goes through. During one route, one woman living in a trailer was without heat in her trailer during the winter months, and Vanderzyden said Burton helped find a way to get her a portable heater.

Another resident, he added, was unable to find anyone to cut his lawn because he was on a fixed income.

By giving back to the community, Vanderzyden said it allows people to not only help people in the community, but also see the struggles others endure and be more civic minded.

Vanderzyden also recalled when Odessa College was threatened with losing funds from the Texas Legislature in 2011. He said the community came together to rally around the college, which eventually saw the college’s funding restored.

Because the community stood behind the college, Vanderzyden said the staff tries to return the favor by serving the community.

“I always tell people we were put on earth to help each other out ... and if we’re not helping each other out, we’re not fulfilling one of our main purposes,” he said.

Odessa, TX

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