RALEIGH — Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, Chava Joyner drives a frozen food truck as much as 250 miles throughout Wake County delivering frozen meals to homebound seniors.
The strain on the white 4-by-4 Chevrolet truck has finally taken its toll.
“That truck is in the shop more than it’s on the road,” said Marlene Silva, volunteer coordinator for Meals on Wheels of Wake County.
The nonprofit organization is trying to raise $50,000 to buy a new freezer truck. It has been using its backup truck to deliver frozen foods to more than 230 senior citizens Mondays through Fridays, and really needs a second truck, Silva said.
“It’s not like if one truck is down, we can go to Hertz and rent another, because we need a freezer truck,” she said.
Meals on Wheels has raised more than $20,000 so far, through direct mail and online outreach.
“We want to try and buy the new truck before the summer is over,” said Mary Kate Keith, director of development and communication. “We hope to have something like a christening for the new truck and invite all our volunteers and the people Meals on Wheels serves to celebrate with food.”
When Meals on Wheels began in Wake County in 1974, the idea was to serve hot meals countywide. It began as a home delivery program, but slowly expanded to include serving people in dining halls and with frozen meals that they could heat up when they want.
Now, volunteers driving their own cars deliver about 1,000 hot meals, while 300 seniors gather in one of eight senior dining halls around the county, where they can get to know one another. The frozen meals program was established in 2001 to serve homebound seniors in remote areas.
“Let’s say somebody lives in the back of Zebulon and can’t get to a senior dining hall. We can’t send our volunteers who deliver food out on a 40-minute drive over there,” said Silva. “We try to keep our volunteer routes under an hour because we have a lot of people who volunteer during their lunch breaks at work.”
Seniors who receive frozen meals get five delivered once a week. The meals are prepared each day by Food Runners, a joint venture with the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, and put into a flash freezer in the kitchen, then stored in an immobilized freezer truck powered with electricity from the main building.
When the frozen meals program began, it was delivering food to 30 people per week. Today, it delivers food to more than 200 people and is still growing.
“Two weeks ago, I added three more names to the route, and this week I’m adding two more,” she said. “That’s more daily miles on the truck.”
Joyner, 39, is a Meals on Wheels employee and has been driving the truck for more than six years. She understands how important it is to get a new one.
“Some people really don’t have any food,” she said. “I’ve been in homes where I have seen the fridge completely empty, so if I can’t deliver food, then a lot of people will go hungry.”
On Tuesdays, she mostly covers Raleigh and Garner. But on Thursdays, she covers Fuquay-Varina, Willow Spring, Garner, Holly Spring, New Hill and Cary, which can take six to seven hours.
It takes her a little more than an hour to load the truck, but her greatest enjoyment is serving those in need. On her days off, she visits some of the people on her route to talk and pray with them, even taking them to the grocery store.
“Sometimes I’m the only visitor they have all week, so it’s nice to put a smile on their faces,” she said. “I think I like it because I can feel my own family members I’ve lost through the people I serve.”