April 17 – 23 is National Volunteer Week, and Meals on Wheels San Diego County is highlighting some of its exceptional volunteers who are integral to the nonprofits mission. Since its early beginnings, Meals on Wheels has delivered nearly 21 million meals to more than 4,000 seniors and 552 animals, with 3.402 volunteers who have collectively traveled nearly 650,000 miles. Each year, MOWSDC delivers more than 650,000 nutritious meals with friendly visits by their volunteers, helping seniors remain at home, and advocating for issues that impact the health, wellness, and independence of San Diegans 60 years and older, their pets, veterans of any age with disabilities, and their care givers.
Alpine resident Henri Fernandes said over 20 years ago, he was looking for a place to volunteer his time. He said he always ate lunch at a strip mall and every week this big white van would pull up, pull out coolers, and he saw five or six cars taking off in every direction with a couple of coolers.
“I finally said I have to find out what this is all about,” he said. “I went and talked to someone about it and thought this would be right up my alley, and I have been volunteering for Meals on Wheels ever since. And that was 20 years ago.”
Fernandes said his clients are so appreciative.
“Not only do they get their meals every day, but with many of these elderly people you are the only one that they have human contact with. It brightens up their day. Not only bringing them lunch, but just having someone to chitchat with and checking in on them gives them a sense of security.” Fernandes said even though he has a route to stay on, he is never in such a hurry where he cannot sit and chat with someone. “I befriended a retired Marine colonel years ago when I started Meals on Wheels,” he said. “He became a very dear friend of mine. We did not live very far from one another. We would go to church together every week and we would go to Denny’s. He was a really good friend of mine. He had many good stories from the war, his life. He was a fascinating guy that I was really crazy about. He passed a few years ago.”
Fernandes said he gets more out of visits with the clients than they do.
“I do not know what it is about Meals on Wheels, but I am so drawn to it,” he said. “I am dedicated to it, if anyone wants to do anything with me on a Thursday, I cannot do it. No matter what it is. Meals on Wheels is my first commitment and my only commitment on Thursday. I do not do anything because that is my delivery day.”
“It is really gratifying knowing that you are helping these people that cannot get out of the house,” he continued. “They really have no way of getting to the market or getting food, so it is a good way to keep them in a house as opposed to putting them in a home somewhere and most of the people want to stay in their own home. I know I would rather finish my days in my house. And the Meals programs makes it able for these people to remain at home. I hope the program is still around if and when I need it. That is how much I think of the program.”
Fernandes said the commitment is not much at all, with him delivering one day a week.
“I used to do it while I was still working,” he said. “I was my own boss. I would leave my guys on the job and take off and do Meals on Wheels.”
Fernandes said it is so much more than delivering meals, it is checking in on people.
“I might have saved a life one day,” he said. “His door was open a crack. I kept knocking on the door and I was not getting a response from him. I opened the door to check on him and he was laid back in an easy chair in a coma and he was bleeding out of every toe on his feet. I called 9-1-1, and I think I saved him. They do not tell us the outcome, but I do hope that I saved his life. That is the other wonderful thing about Meals on Wheels. Not only do you bring them a meal, but you also check on their welfare. They could be lying on the floor somewhere and you could be the one that saves their life.”
Fernandes said Meals on Wheels is a great program if you want to get into volunteering.
“It is not a whole lot of time and I think that the benefit is great,” he said, adding that even using his own car, paying for his own gas, it is a worthy cause for such a small investment of time and money and he continues because he loves doing it.
“I get more satisfaction than it costs me in gas,” he said.