Laurie Lizotte schedules volunteer driver routes for Meals On Wheels, not an easy task during summer months. Photo courtesy Laurie Lizotte.

Volunteer drivers are desperately needed to deliver Meals on Wheels to 230 seniors in the Fairbanks area next week and through the rest of the summer.

The Meals On Wheels program, spearheaded by the Fairbanks Senior Center, delivers meals to seniors at their homes Monday through Friday. About 60 volunteer drivers make this happen regularly, but summer schedules are wreaking havoc with volunteers and deliveries.

“Now that Covid restrictions are lifting, people are traveling, having surgeries that were postponed due to Covid, going fishing and camping,” said Laurie Lizotte, Meals on Wheels program assistant. “People are wanting to move around again. I have a lot of volunteers coming and going this summer, and who can blame them.”

But now those delivery driver slots need to be filled.

When Covid descended, Meals On Wheels numbers boomed as more and more seniors signed up for home meal deliveries.

“We went from 160 people to 215 people who signed up and that fluctuates,” Lizotte said. “We try to cap it at about 230. That’s as much as we can push onto volunteer drivers and as much as the kitchen can produce every day.”

Six drivers who are dedicated during the winter months took time off this summer and plan to return in the fall. Those routes currently need to be filled for the rest of the summer.

“I have three white boards on my wall right now,” Lizotte said. “Two are calendars, one is for the month of July, one is for the month of August. I track who is coming and going. Then I have a white board just for relief drivers.”

She totally understands that volunteers are taking advantage of the summer season for personal time.

“End of July is coming up, August is going to be here and it’s hit or miss on weather in August, you never know,” she said. “So everyone is wanting to get out these last two weeks of July.”

But filling those vacancies has not been easy and Lizotte and other employees end up driving routes if no one else is available. Although she loves filling in and connecting with homebound seniors, she should really be spending her time finding volunteer drivers for all the routes.

Homebound seniors rely heavily on these meals.

“They know you’re coming as soon as you knock on the door,” she said. “They are wanting to have that face-to-face contact.”

Sometimes these drivers are the only human contact for homebound seniors. Another Fairbanks Senior Center group called the Silver Squad started taking on those wellness checks, calling seniors several times during the week to check on them.

Homebound seniors and drivers miss the daily contact, Lizotte said.

She could use more volunteers for the Silver Squad as well. And anyone who wants to volunteer to run errands like grocery shopping or prescription pickups? Give her a call.

“Meals On Wheels has been busy,” she said.

On Friday, she was trying to fill nine open routes for the upcoming week. She is looking for volunteers who can commit one day a week to deliver meals. Each route has 11 to 20 stops and the routes are carefully planned to be efficient for the driver.

“This is supposed to be fun and rewarding,” she said. “It’s not meant to be stressful.”

Anyone interested in volunteering can call Lizotte at 452-2554.

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