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Helpers: Meals on Wheels, five decades of keeping people fed

Some 3,200 meals delivered a month, driving 90,000 kilometres a year, the volunteers with Meals on Wheels (Sudbury) serve clients across the city and out to Killarney, Estaire, Wanup and Cartier
Shannon Ketchabaw, Meals on Wheels executive director (left) with Tammi Lear, manager of operations.

The volunteer drivers for Meals on Wheels (Sudbury) are paid a stipend to cover their costs, but many return the money as a donation to the non-profit organization that has been helping seniors for 51 years.

That illustrates their level of commitment to the program and the community, says Tammi Lear, manager of operations.

In addition to seniors over the age of 60, the meal program is available to people with disabilities, health issues and caregivers.

There is also a meal program for new parents and their pre-school children to ease the adjustment to a new edition in the family.

Meals on Wheels delivers an estimated 3,200 hot meals per month from Monday to Friday. The Sudbury agency serves clients in Greater Sudbury, Killarney, Estaire, Wanup and Cartier. Collectively, drivers put a total of 90,630 kilometres on their vehicles last year.

"We rely on our volunteers to ensure our meals get delivered. Without our volunteers, we would not be able to fulfil our mission,” said Shannon Ketchabaw, executive director.

And like so many non-profit organizations and service clubs these days, there is always a need for more helpers.

Food is prepared fresh in the Meals on Wheels kitchen, which is located in Minnow Lake Place on Bancroft Drive.

The base price for a complete meal, which includes salad and dessert, is $9.25. Clients can order hot meals for up to five days per week to fit their schedule. A frozen or hot meal replacement program is available for weekends and holidays. 

"We fight to keep the price low," Lear said.

The agency has been challenged to keep the cost of meals down despite skyrocketing food prices. The cost per meal has increased only about $1 in three years.

"It is a full course meal for a very small price and there is also a subsidy program," Ketchabaw said. "We endeavour to provide to everybody, so if there is an issue that someone can't afford meals, they can get a reduced rate."

The friendship that develops between clients and volunteer drivers is a fringe benefit. Drivers provide a valuable service checking in on the welfare of clients.

"The security check is important," Lear said. "The driver may be the only person they see that day."

Meals on Wheels' services were taxed during the COVID-19 pandemic when the request for meals increased by 37 per cent.

Ketchabaw explained the upside of the pandemic was that it allowed people more free time to volunteer.

Funding for Meals on Wheels comes from Ontario Health, United Way Centraide North East, Sudbury Food Bank, private foundations and numerous individual donors. Last year, the Ontario Trillium Foundation provided $150,000 to renovate the kitchen and purchase equipment.

The catering division, Home on Our Own, is another source of income. It is contracted to prepare meals for clients such as local day care centres.

Many of the Meals on Wheels helpers have been with the agency for decades. André Brisebois, 82, a retired miner, has been volunteering since 1995.

His parents received Meals on Wheels and he was impressed with the agency's commitment to seniors. He finds the experience of giving back to the community rewarding.

When asked how long he plans to continue to volunteer, he said, "As long as I can walk and drive."

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer. Helpers is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.