Looking for an opportunity to volunteer in the community on a flexible weekly schedule? Then Meal on Wheels of Erath County can certainly put you to use.

The local non-profit agency, which provides services to the area’s disabled and homebound residents, is in need of more volunteers to transport hot meals to homes across Erath County.

Darlene Gaitan, executive director of Erath County Senior Citizens, Inc., says opportunities are available and the agency is willing to work around volunteers’ schedules.

“We could probably use another 10 volunteers to handle another route,” said Gaitan. “We’re about three volunteers short now and if we had a few more we could add an additional route to reduce the number of stops each person has to make.”

Gaitan says Meals on Wheels is made possible by a volunteer force of 200 drivers, both dedicated individuals and those associated with local civic organizations and businesses, who provide their time and vehicles to deliver meals Monday through Friday.

On a daily basis Meals on Wheels delivers food on seven routes, taking volunteers on visits to homes in Stephenville, Dublin, Lingleville, Huckabay, Morgan Mill, Duffau, Bluff Dale and Hico.

Each day, the drivers arrive to pick up the prepared meals beginning at 10:15 a.m. and start to make their rounds visiting the elderly and other homebound individuals with a plate in hand.

“Ideally, we would like to have the routes be 45 minutes to an hour (long) to accommodate people on their lunch breaks,” said Gaitan. “Right now they’re running long and we’ve had a few complaints, and at the same time, we don’t want to lose volunteers over it because we depend on them to do the routes.”

Gaitan said current routes include 10 to 20 stops. “That’s a reason we need more volunteers and are looking at adding an additional route. We try to do it in a practical way so you’re not driving all over the place, but in a concentrated area.”

By adding another route for volunteers, Gaitan says it would lighten the load for everyone who gives their time to the agency.

Another reason, Gaitan says it’s difficult to attract volunteers, is due to gas prices continuing to rise.

Those interested in accepting a route need two things: a reliable vehicle and an hour per week to drive their assigned route.

“They’d only need to be able to carry two ice chests and a clipboard,” said Gaitan. “It works well if you have a partner, while one can drive and the other can hop. It’s also more enjoyable when you go as partners.”

Not only does Meals on Wheels provide its clients with a hot lunch each day, but gives those individuals’ caretakers some peace of mind knowing that a volunteer is making a brief house call, says Gaitan. “It gives us a chance to look in on them and the families appreciate that. One client told me the other day that this is the greatest thing to assist him. He couldn’t believe how much it was helping his schedule.”

Oftentimes, Gaitan says, Meals on Wheels volunteers will assist the client with a simple task after delivering the plates. “Generally, the ones that are used to us coming, they just have the volunteer stop and carry the meal in (to the home). Sometimes, the person will ask the volunteer to grab the mail or newspaper, or open a bottle for them.”

The premise of the program is to provide some socialization and good nutrition, said Gaitan. “It helps the caregivers of those families know they’re seeing someone in the middle of the day when they’re away.”

Volunteer opportunities are flexible, she says, with schedules available for one day per week or every other week. “You can volunteer to be available as often as you want. It’s helpful if we have someone on an established route to drive at least once a week on a certain day, but if they want to drive every other week, we’ll welcome that as well.”

Meals must be delivered by noon, says Gaitan, with many volunteer drivers showing before 10:30 a.m. to collect the meals for their designated route. Many of the Meals on Wheels’ current volunteers show up around 11 a.m. and use their lunch breaks from work to deliver to homes.

Before joining Meals on Wheels’ efforts, interested volunteers are required to complete an application and provide a driver’s license and proof of liability insurance, says Gaitan. “They sign an agreement that states they’ve read the rules and understand them. Then we’ll go over what to expect on a route in a 10-minute, one-on-one orientation.”

For more information or to apply to become a volunteer, stop by 1306 E. Washington St., Suite M. Individuals in the Stephenville area may also call Darlene Gaitan or Dennis Flory at 965-3510. Interested Dublin area volunteers are asked to call Ray Flory at 445-2898.