Tonawanda News — Some days there’s simply not enough volunteers to deliver meals to shut-ins.
So Lori Gantt, program director for Meals on Wheels of Niagara, gets into her car and delivers them herself.
“I always have a few routes open every week,” she said, adding she has a crew of about 75 volunteers, but its dwindling. She could use about 15 more.
“Some of my volunteers have been doing it for 44 years since the day we started,” Gantt said. “Unfortunately, they have to retire.” Her volunteer cook, who comes in every day at 6:30 a.m. to make lunch and dinners for shut-ins, is 88 years old.
Like many volunteer-dependent organizations in the region, she’s looking for “younger” volunteers. It’s the 60-year-olds that everybody wants, but many of them are far too busy.
The reason for the need, is that the Greatest Generation — from the World War II era when the men worked and the women volunteered — are aging out of the ranks of the local volunteer corps, leaving a need for more helping hands in the organizations that depend on them.
It’s not just a local problem. At a statewide convention for directors of volunteer programs, it was clear that volunteer numbers are lower everywhere.
“Everybody has the same issue,” said Judy Villani, director of volunteers for Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, who attended the four-day convention held at the Sheraton.
Villani said many volunteers are working part-time jobs for extra income, or care-taking for family members, including grandchildren and great grandchildren.
“A lot of them are pulled in many directions,” she added of her volunteers, noting that churches, clubs and other civic organizations are short on funds and relying on volunteer manpower.
While volunteer numbers are down only about 10 percent at NFMMC, Villani said the need has been filled by an increasing number of volunteers provided by Western New York high schools and colleges, many of whom have students who must fill community service requirements.