Meals on Wheels staying busy
MARQUETTE — Community Action Alger-Marquette’s Meals on Wheels program has been operating for more than 50 years, delivering an average of 322 meals per day, five days a week, to residents in Marquette and Alger counties.
For the program’s delivery drivers, it’s more than just dropping off meals.
“When I started this job, I had no idea how rewarding it would be,” Meals on Wheels driver Larry Marta said.
Marta, a retired mine worker, has been delivering meals for 12 years. His route has been consistent for the past 11 years, allowing him to get to know meal recipients well and form bonds with them.
“You’re on the route long enough, you get to know these people. You know their habits, you know when you see them when something isn’t quite right,” he said.
Not only do the 15 part-time drivers drop meals off, but they also do a friendly check-in with residents.
“It’s contact with people that normally may not have contact with other humans throughout the day. It’s a wellness check, it’s a meal, and it’s just a great program,” Marta said.
Meals are prepared in two kitchens, one in Gwinn and another in Marquette. Food is cooked in the morning, then put into trays and sealed. Finally they’re put into big, red insulated bags for drivers to grab on their way out the door. Any food that is left over and isn’t distributed that day is frozen to be given out for weekend meals, or during the week depending on client delivery schedule preferences. Clients have the option to have food delivered to them one to five days a week.
“It’s not like we’re dealing with people who are desperate,” chef Bill Donnell said. “Some people think we’re just helping people who aren’t able to help themselves. Well, they are able to help themselves, but there’s only so much they can do for themselves. We’re just filling in the gaps.”
Donnell has been working for CAAM for 14 years. Five other people help him around the kitchen, but he is the only chef at the Marquette location.
“We have an incredible staff that has worked incredibly hard since the pandemic began to provide our seniors with not just nutritious food, but a wellness check every time they deliver, and a connection to the outside world,” for CAAM Community Nutrition Services Director Lori Stephens-Brown said.
The program is currently in need of drivers. To become a driver, one must have a reliable vehicle, a clean driving record, fill out an application, pass a background check, and go through an interview process.
Drivers do get paid, but Marta said, “we don’t do it for the money.”
To qualify for home-delivered meals, one must be 60 years of age or older, homebound, and not able to prepare meals for themselves. Seniors can call the CAAM office themselves for a quick telephone screening, or be referred to the program by loved ones, health providers, or senior centers. There are no income limits for the program.
Donations from the public and meal clients are always welcome and appreciated. The suggested donation per meal is $3.50. Donations are important because only 47% of the program funding comes from state and local grants. The rest of the funding is from donations, Alger County and Marquette County senior millages, the United Way, and service clubs.
“Staff shortages have put a huge strain on the program, and now food costs and shortages are adding another stressor to Meals on Wheels,” Stephens-Brown said. “We appreciate donations, as the food costs are starting to quickly spiral upwards, along with an increased need for the program.”
On average, Marta delivers about 24 meals a day, three days a week. At one time, due to a lack of drivers, he was delivering almost 40 meals per day. More meals mean less time to check in and chat with residents when he drops their food off to them, so he prefers when the number of meals to be delivered is smaller.
“This job gives you a sense of feeling like you’re helping people,” he said with a smile.
When asked why Meals on Wheels is an important program, Stephens-Brown said, “good nutrition is definitely tied to good health. Seniors who consume a healthy diet can live longer, healthier, more active lives.
“No matter what a senior’s income, it becomes difficult to secure a healthy diet — that’s why there are no income limits for the program. Meals on Wheels provides tremendous savings in a community by reducing hospital stays and keeping seniors living independently.”
For more information about Meals on Wheels, call 906-228-6522 or visit www.communityactionam.org/meals-on-wheels.
Taylor Johnson can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is