MARQUETTE - Larry Marta enjoys his job.
"It's the greatest job in the world, I tell you," said Marta, a driver for Meals on Wheels, a program that brings freshly prepared, nutritious food to seniors through the Alger-Marquette Community Action Board.
Monday through Friday, Marta brings meals to about 30 homes in the city of Marquette around the noon hour.
Chef Bill Donnell and cook Lisa Slattery work on packaging fish, spinach and potatoes for Tuesday’s Meals on Wheels delivery in Marquette. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
"Most of the folks on my route have other people in their lives, too, like home health care or their kids," he said. "But a few don't see anyone else but me every day. I am happy to be here for them."
Marta drives route number three in Marquette, picking up the meals from the kitchen at Lost Creek senior housing development after they are prepared and packaged by chef Bill Donnell and his crew.
"We average 325 to 350 meals a day," Donnell said as he helped package the fish, spinach and potatoes prepared for that day's meal. "We also do some frozen meals so the clients can have them for the weekend. And we do extra meals for holidays as well."
Donnell enjoys his work in the kitchen.
"Desserts are my favorites to make because you have the most leeway," Donnell said. "Otherwise, there are some strict nutrition guidelines.
"We know what we do matters," he said. "For some seniors, they plan to take their medications when the meal arrives. For others, the drivers are the only person they see all day. This interaction helps with their wellness."
Marta said he likes to be at the first of his stops by about 10:30 a.m.
"They get used to me coming at a certain time," he said. "I spend two or three or maybe four minutes per stop at the most. I'd like to stay longer, but the whole route takes about two hours or so and I don't want to be late.
"But it's nice to be able to chat with them, even just a little."
Marta starts his route at the Lost Creek kitchen, picking up three carriers used to keep the meals warm as well as a cooler that contains milk and margarine.
"I see tartar sauce, so it must be fish today," Marta said as he brought the carriers to his van. "Sometimes the seniors want to know and haven't checked beforehand."
Marta, who has been driving for Meals on Wheels for about a year, knows his 19-mile route well. And he's coming to know his seniors well.
He knows, for instance, that one of his first stops is at the home of a woman who herself drove for Meals on Wheels.
"I was a driver when they first started this," Donna Weesen confirmed. "I used to drive all the way up Wright Street."
She enjoys receiving the meals.
"They are a blessing," Weesen said. "They are all wonderful. When I cooked for my family, it was always a hassle, having to choose what to make, so this is nice."
Marta and Weesen kidded around before the driver went back to his van to get going to the next stop.
"I'd say the average age of the people on my route is in the upper 80s," he said. "There are maybe five or six people in their 90s. One will be 98 this year. And one lady is 95 but I would swear she's no more than 85.
"You kind of get attached to them," Marta said of his route. "You're always concerned when they don't answer the door and you know if someone's not well."
arta said if he thinks someone on his route needs some attention, he will let the AMCAB office know to call the person's emergency contact so a follow-up can be done.
Betty Wellman is another happy senior when her meal arrives.
"I have not found anything that I don't like," she said of her Meals on Wheels experience. "It's all wonderful, the chicken is good, the ham is good, the fish is good. There's always something on the plate that can be enjoyed."
Another senior, Dorothy Stadler, also has developed a teasing rapport with driver Marta.
"The driver? Oh, he's terrible," she said with a bright smile directed toward Marta. "I have been getting meals for about seven years now. It's OK."
Marta delivers something else to these seniors, along with the meals: He delivers smiles.
"For two hours of the day, I know I have to be happy," he said. "I have to be upbeat for them. They deserve that."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.