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The unpaid delivery drivers: Meals on Wheels volunteers bring food and comfort to people in Perham

Brenda Biegler, left, and Julie Stroh deliver Meals on Wheels some Thursdays as part of a United Community Bank volunteer rotation. They said they enjoy the experience because it gives them the opportunity to get out into the community and talk to people. After all, Stroh added with a little laugh, “community is our middle name!” Marie Nitke/FOCUS 1 / 2
Meals on Wheels volunteer Jim Holper has been delivering food to people in Perham once a week for the last decade. He is pictured here with Nancy Moris, the program and volunteer coordinator. Moris has been with Meals on Wheels for the last 30 years, just a few years shy of the program’s beginnings in Perham. Marie Nitke/FOCUS2 / 2

Every Thursday afternoon for the last 10 years, in rain, snow, sleet or shine, Jim Holper has gotten into his car, picked up bags of food, and brought dinner to as many as a dozen people around Perham who are unable to shop or cook for themselves.

Sometimes, Holper is the only person those people talk to all day. He helps connect them to the outside world by giving reports on the weather and trying to make them laugh.

“I like to tease them and joke around,” Holper said as he was picking up a bag of food last Thursday. “It’s kind of fun. Besides, I have the time and... well, we’ll all be there someday.”

Holper is one of a large handful of volunteers for the local Meals on Wheels program.

The dedicated group of 10 regular volunteers and four substitutes delivers hot, balanced meals to about 20 to 25 clients, Monday through Friday, and also brings frozen, reheatable meals to those who need food over the weekends or on holidays, like Thanksgiving.

Many of them volunteer once a week, some more often, some less. A few, like United Community Bank employees Julie Stroh and Brenda Biegler, are part of a larger organization or business, and they rotate their volunteer hours with other members or employees.

“This gives us a chance to get out and visit with the people,” said Biegler of why she enjoys volunteering.

“It’s an easy task for us, so why not?” added Stroh. “Plus, they feed us lunch!”

On average, it takes volunteers just an hour a day to complete their delivery routes, depending on how long they choose to stay and visit with the clients. And when they get back to the Meals on Wheels ‘home base’ at the Perham Living cafeteria, they’re treated to a complimentary meal of their own for their efforts.

The cafeteria is the hub of activity for Meals on Wheels, with staff bustling every morning in preparation for the lunch-hour deliveries. It’s where the meals are planned, cooked and packed, and it’s where the volunteers go to pick up their bags of food.

Leading up the charge are Diane Krumweide, director of the Meals on Wheels program, and Nancy Moris, program and volunteer coordinator.

Krumweide said funding for Meals on Wheels comes from the federal Older Americans Act. Clients pay an income-based fee for the meals, and must meet certain eligibility guidelines to take part in the program.

Primarily, clients are age 60 or older, Krumweide said, and are unable to leave their homes due to age, illness or other circumstances.

“Meals on Wheels is not just a meal service, it’s also a check-up service,” she said. “We check on their welfare every day, Monday through Friday.”

Without Meals on Wheels, Krumweide added, “clients would be at risk. I don’t know what other options people would have.”

The clients rely on the program for its affordability, reliable delivery service and nutritious meals consisting of an entree, starch, vegetable, salad, fruit, bread and milk. The portion size is large enough that some clients have enough for both lunch and dinner.

Only on rare occasions are the meals not delivered as planned, due to icy roads or other dangerous weather conditions, when the safety of volunteers is a concern.

But the volunteers aren’t usually the type to complain about a little bad weather.

Volunteer Coordinator Moris, who has been with Meals on Wheels for the last 30 years, said, “The volunteers are hidden gems, for sure. They’re out there in the snow, rain and sleet to bring meals to people.”

Volunteers are currently needed, especially on Tuesdays. To volunteer, or for more information, contact Nancy Moris at 347-1558.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Perham Focus more than five years ago, and has since worn many hats as writer, editor and page designer. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their one-year-old son, Simon, and their yellow lab, Louisa. 

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