“I love working with the people,” said Gaines, entering his 24th year working on behalf of Meals on Wheels and its Vergennes clients. “I’ve told Age Well it’s the best hour of my week, going out visiting with people.”
Gaines was the president of the Rotary Club in the mid-1990s when the club adopted Meals on Wheels as a charity it would sponsor. Over the years, as the effort grew and the club shrank, the Vergennes Lions Club signed on, too, and then both clubs eventually reached out further for more community volunteers.
Now about 15 drivers take turns making daily runs along three Vergennes-area routes, in the process serving around 30 clients a day, Gaines said.
Meals come from the Age Well’s Rutland branch to the St. Peter’s Catholic Church garage in the heart of downtown Vergennes. After meals are packed in vehicles each route takes an hour, give or take a few minutes, to complete.
The time on the route can depend on the how long volunteers take to visit with their clients, Gaines said, but visits are a little shorter under the current circumstances.
“Right now, of course, it’s scary, because they’re mostly older folks, mostly with immune-system problems and health issues,” Gaines said.
“I call it a drop and run, right now,” he added. “We’re instructed to wear a mask and wear gloves. We’re instructed to take a bag with the meal and hang it off their door. And then call them or make contact with them to make sure they get it before we leave. A lot of them are waiting for you.”
Gaines said he and the clients both are sad that an important part of Meals and Wheels delivery, the human element, has been largely lost.
“These people are really missing the contact. They’ll talk to you through the door, or open the door and say, ‘I miss you,’” he said.
That contact has always been an essential part of the Meals on Wheels effort, Gaines said.
“You’d knock on the door and go right in and have a chat with them, anywhere for a couple minutes to eight or 10 minutes. It’s just a huge thing. It’s part of the deal here. We’re kind of an ambassador for Age Well, checking in on these folks. When I see someone in trouble I email the Age Well office,” Gaines said. “You’ve got someone looking out for them every day.”
Even with the current pandemic Gaines said he did not hesitate to continue volunteering.
“I had done a lot of reading and looked at how I was going to approach it. And with gloves on and a mask, and no contact with these folks, I feel pretty confident I can stay safe,” he said.
Gaines urged others to volunteer the up to 90 minutes a week it takes, and said he would be happy to discuss it with others and pass along names to Age Well — he urged people to call him at his business, Gaines Insurance Agency, at 877-2878.
After a long day or week at work, he said a Meals on Wheels run is a perfect antidote to stress.
“It’s wicked fun if you like people,” Gaines said. “The minute I step out the door everything changes, because I know the folks I’m about to encounter are waiting for me.”