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Florida

Volunteers Help Meals on Wheels

Costly background checks dropped

"Without volunteers, Meals on Wheels would have a very difficult obstacle in the way of achieving its objective — getting nutrition to needy Florida residents," explained Jack McRay, AARP Florida advocacy manager.

"I hope this will encourage more people to volunteer for Meals on Wheels," said Jacobi, the geriatrics clerkship director for Florida State University's Pensacola Regional Medical School Campus. "The ability to obtain meals is crucial to [an older person's] success in staying home."

Thousands still on waiting list

Nearly 4.5 million meals were delivered to Florida residents during the fiscal year that ended last September, according to Ashley Marshall, communications director for the Florida Department of Elder Affairs. Even so, the state has roughly 8,500 people on a waiting list for home-delivered meals.

Laura Cantwell, of Tallahassee, is doing her part. "I feel lucky that I am able to volunteer for a program that feeds so many seniors — many of whom would go hungry without the services," said Cantwell, an AARP Florida senior program specialist.

Older people aren't the only ones helping. At Flagler College in St. Augustine, the Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE) group teamed up with the St. Johns County Council on Aging, which delivers about 200 meals daily.

The students' suggestion to use gel packs to keep food warm extended the delivery radius 10 miles. Their proposal to substitute reusable trays for 75,000 plastic ones will save nearly $19,000 a year and 65 cubic yards of landfill space, according to Seth Teston, one of the SIFE student project leaders.

"All in all this relationship has been a very good thing," said Chuck Bringle, the St. Johns County Council on Aging's director of operations.

Linda Haase is a freelance writer based in Boynton Beach, Fla.

Also of interest: Tackling hunger proactively.

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