Carpenter Center searches for meal program volunteers

For the last three years, a crew at the Terry and Hazeldeane Carpenter Intergenerational Center in Terrytown has hosted a Community Meal Program, preparing and delivering lunches for people in need.

Now, the center is on the lookout for volunteers to help keep the program going.

Matt Carpenter, the center’s executive director, said his staff is looking for volunteer drivers to deliver food to people. For many of the diners, it’s their one regular source of a fresh meal.

The center contracts with the state through the Social Services for Aged and Disabled Adult Program (SSAD). This way, they’re reimbursed for taking care of elderly, homebound individuals who can’t cook for themselves.

Through the Aging and Disabled Waiver Program, they also take care of individuals formerly cared for by senior centers.

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“We’re really there to provide a healthy, warm meal every day for these individuals,” Carpenter said. “…On a given day we could do as many as 80 meals depending on the menu.”

Menus are published on the first day of every month. Carpenter said the meals are made to be nutritious, with fruit, vegetables and protein.

Popular meals include fried chicken and chicken fried steak, “and then we’re like the stop for liver and onions,” he added. “It’s an acquired taste but people that really like it, really like it here. We get probably 25 people that eat in on those days.”

The meal program has shifted from dine-in to mainly delivery since the coronavirus pandemic. Still, up to several dozen people eat there from 11:30 am — 12:30 pm every weekday. Dine-in meals aren’t just for seniors. Others can join in for $6 as long as they give notification a day ahead of time.

The center has just four main volunteers, and around 10 volunteers total, so it can be very difficult to ensure everyone gets to where they need to be, when they need to be there. The group delivers about 40 meals, five days a week.

Volunteers deliver along three routes to Scottsbluff, Gering or to Terrytown and Minatare. The Scottsbluff and Gering routes take around 45 minutes to one hour to complete, Carpenter said.

The center is trying to work with local businesses to cope with a lack of volunteers, but they still need additional drivers to keep the program going strong. Already they’ve had to turn a few people away because they just couldn’t deliver meals to them. With more volunteer drivers, Carpenter said the center could expand its reach.

“With our volunteer shortage, we’ve toyed with some different ideas with making it easier for us to get volunteers and easier for our volunteers,” he said.

These include shortening deliveries to just three days a week with multiple meals per day, though this would lead to more work packing.

The rising cost of food and containers has weighed heavily on the program. Container prices have increased by 40%, Carpenter said, and they need to deliver dozens of them each weekday.

Deliveries take place around the lunch hour in the late morning and early afternoon. Since many diners take medication with their food, the meals need to be delivered around this time, another reason finding drivers is even more crucial, according to Carpenter.

Those interested in becoming a volunteer can contact the Carpenter Center by calling 308-635-8422, emailing or visiting the center and filling out a volunteer form.

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