When Sue Fant retired after working 32 years as a schoolteacher, she knew she wanted to find a way to help others.
About two years ago, Fant, a south Tempe resident, started volunteering as a driver for Tempe Community Action Agency’s Home Delivered Meal program. Fant ended up spending two mornings a week helping to pack up the meals she then delivered to about 20 north Tempe and south Scottsdale homebound and disabled residents.
As Fant soon found out, volunteering with the program involves a lot more than making sure the people on her routes get a hot and nutritious meal. It is also about developing friendships with her clients, many of whom are alone and have little contact with others.
“I just like being around people and I’ve pretty much adopted everyone I work with,” Fant said on a recent morning as she filled plastic bags with rolls, pats of butter and cups of chocolate pudding.
“They are more like a part of my family. It takes a long time to do my route because I like to visit with everyone and make sure they are okay.”
According to Kathy Flores, Home Delivered Meals supervisor and volunteer coordinator, Fantis one of about 35 volunteers who have committed to working a few hours at least one morning a week delivering about 15 to 20 meals to clients.
More volunteers are always needed to help with the program, she said.
In all, Flores said the program serves about 275 clients. Most get their meals delivered five mornings a week, and many have extra food sent over on Thursdays and Fridays to help them get through the weekend.
“It’s always a hot entrée that includes some kind of protein like chicken or beef, and then two sides, a roll, milk and desert,” she said, adding that all of the meals are nutritionally approved by the Area Agency on Aging and special dietary needs like diabetes are addressed as well.
“It’s also a chance for our volunteers to do a wellness check on our clients, and to give them an opportunity to see other people. A large percentage of the people we work with are extremely isolated, and in case there is somçthing wrong they often have no one who can help them.”
Because Fant and the other volunteers do the same routes every time, they can get to really know their clients, Flores said. This way they can quickly determine if someone may be having a health or other issue that should be reported to the person’s case manager, or, if necessary, even call 911 for help.
“Our volunteers get to develop a rapport with everyone, and they can see what is normal and not normal with our clients,” she said.
“They build relationships with them.”
After finishing her work with the rolls and pudding, Fant walked over to an industrial kitchen to help load the large, padded coolers with the meals she would need for that morning’s deliveries. Once her sedan was loaded up, she got on the road.
One of her first stops was at the home of a program recipient named Clyde, whose health issues make it difficult for him to get out on his own. Fant greeted both him and his small dog with a friendly hello, and chatted with him for several minutes while she served him his meal.
Clyde said he is extremely grateful for the program and for the volunteers like Fant who have delivered food to him for almost four years.
“Everyone is always so friendly,” Clyde said. “And the food is great for my lunch, or sometimes I’ll save it for my dinner.”
Fant knows that the meals she hand-delivers to her clients are, helping to ensure that they have something good to eat every day.
But as far as she’s concerned, she’s benefiting just as much by being part of the program.
“This is not just a service for me; it’s more like the ministry,” she said.
“I feel like I am very blessed to be able to do this.”
For more information or to volunteer, contact Flores at 480-858-6511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.