Demand surging for Meals on Wheels in Lawrence; volunteers help people age in place

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Post updated at 12:58 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 18:

Weekends can be lonely for 83-year-old Betty Giddings and her yorkie, Mokey. 

“All weekend I don’t see anybody, because nobody works on the weekend,” Giddings says.  


Her weekdays can be lonely, too, unless her grandchildren or great grandchildren make a rare visit. But the difference is that during the week, volunteers from Meals on Wheels of Eastern Kansas stop by Giddings’ home to deliver her meals. Often they will stay and visit with her. Some of them even bring treats for Mokey.

“If it wasn’t for Meals on Wheels and the person that comes in to clean — but she [doesn’t] come that often — I wouldn’t see anybody,” Giddings says. “I don’t talk to too many people, so I enjoy them coming and checking on me because if they don’t hear me holler, ‘Come in!’ they start calling to find out how come.”

Demand for Meals on Wheels of Eastern Kansas is surging, according to Amy Barter, volunteer coordinator for the program. 

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Amy Barter

“Our clientele is growing by leaps and bounds,” Barter says. “It’s outpacing the volunteer team. The need is great and helping seniors stay in our homes — because that’s where we want to age — when a volunteer adopts a route, they are adopting a set of neighbors. They may be the only human being our clients see physically face to face.” 

Meals on Wheels of Eastern Kansas, which serves Shawnee, Jefferson and Douglas County, is part of a home health service company called Midland Care. It serves seven routes in Douglas County with 15 meal recipients on each route, so more than 100 people receive meals from the program. 

Midland Care experienced a shortage of volunteers early in the COVID pandemic. And because the demand for meals has exceeded volunteer growth, some drivers are taking on longer routes, which could increase burnout rates. 

The program is designed to minimize strain on volunteers by keeping route lengths under an hour. Some volunteers drive once a week; others deliver monthly. 

“We can do whatever schedule works for them,” Barter says. “It’s all a giant puzzle, and we will set it up to whatever piece will fit in to get the puzzle accomplished.” 

Prudence Wilson, 51, has been a volunteer driver for food-delivery programs in Douglas County for 12 years; she’s volunteered for Midland Care for four. 

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Prudence Wilson

“It’s been a great experience,” she says. “It takes from 45 minutes to an hour and a half (each) week … Sometimes my route is a little longer, as you know, because they need volunteers.”

Wilson picks up her meals at 10:45 a.m. every Friday, makes her first stop by 11 a.m., and is done by 12:15 p.m.

“The more volunteers they get, the shorter the routes will be,” Wilson says. 

Wilson started delivering when her youngest daughter was 3. She would keep her buckled in the car seat for dropoffs, or at some houses, she would bring her in to visit clients. Visiting clients is part of the joy of volunteering, Wilson says.  

“They’re healthy meals — some of the meals are geared toward whatever their health needs are — but for some of the people it’s about seeing a friendly face,” Wilson says. “Some of the clients I deliver to, they live alone and I don’t know how often they see someone.”

For Mona McManigal, 70, volunteering for Meals on Wheels is a way to stay mentally and physically active. A community volunteer for more than 25 years, McManigal joined Midland Care six months ago. She delivers 15 meals on a 15-mile route every Monday, sometimes picking up other shifts if she’s available. 

“I like to stay active. I’m not a stay-at-home happy type,” she says. “I think people need to do what makes them happy and this is rewarding to me. (Volunteering) gives me a sense of purpose.” 

One of the volunteers who delivers meals to Giddings is Patty Brasel, 71, who moved to Lawrence in May 2020 and began delivering meals in early 2021. Brasel was inspired by her 93-year-old mother, who received the Meals on Wheels service for years and believes the program’s volunteers are heroes.

“I am a retiree and new to Lawrence,” Brasel says. “I had to give up my volunteer opportunities when I moved here. I wanted an outlet that would enable me to help others.” 

Brasel’s route takes about an hour. She could probably finish earlier, but she loves to stop and spend time talking to Giddings, who is always grateful for the visit. 

“I enjoy talking to (the volunteers) because it’s kind of lonesome just sitting here looking out the window, watching TV,” Giddings says. “(Brasel) will spend … sometimes 20 minutes here talking to me, and I’ve shared things with her … on Facebook. She is just a lovely lady. I love her to pieces. You can really tell that she cares about people.” 

To keep pace with the program’s growth, Meal on Wheels of Eastern Kansas needs about 15 to 20 additional volunteers. Anyone interested in helping can email Amy Barter at or call or text 785-588-0191. To learn more about Meals on Wheels of Eastern Kansas and see if you might qualify for the program, visit this link.

Lawrence Meals on Wheels, a separate organization, also serves clients who are younger than 60 years old. Find out more about that program and how to get involved at this link.

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Chansi Long (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from July 2022 through August 2023. Read more of her work for the Times here.

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