By Kathleen Reynolds
Napa resident Patricia (Pat) Wartenweiler grew up in Surrey, England and came to the United States in her 20s. While her three daughters were in school, she volunteered often with their schools. When they entered high school, Pat joined the volunteers at Meals on Wheels delivering food to housebound Napa seniors—and has for the past 40+ years. Pat delivered meals two days a week until the pandemic. Now she volunteers once a week.
“My mother volunteered for Meals on Wheels in England after World War II,” Pat says. “It’s different in England, the people on the route were very poor.”
The website for Community Action Napa Valley (CAN-V), the nonprofit agency responsible for Meals on Wheels, describes the program. “Meals on Wheels distributes five lunches and two snacks per week to homebound seniors, including milk and fresh fruit; this is a free service addressing the nutritional needs of more than 400 participants throughout Napa County.”
“I start my delivery day at 10 a.m. and I’m usually finished around 1:30-2 p.m.,” says Pat. I have 24 people on my route. When the people see that I’m interested in them, they become my friends.”
Did we mention Pat’s age?
“I may be old, but I’m active,” she says.
Her 1989 Volvo station wagon stopped counting mileage when it hit 250,000 miles. Her 15-mile route takes her from the alphabet streets to the Silverado Trail, Coombsville and Monticello Roads.
Lisa DeRose-Hernandez, the Meals on Wheels Program Director, explains in an email about the importance of the program.
“Our Home-Delivered Meal Program serves meals for those seniors aged 60 and over who are home-bound and/or unable to shop and cook. You may also receive Meals on Wheels if you are the caregiver/spouse/companion of a 60+ senior who is receiving meals. Volunteer Delivery Drivers deliver our freshly prepared meals on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A key component of our Home-Delivered Program is consistent contact with our senior clients. This contact not only reduces senior isolation but ensures their safety daily.”
“Deliveries are made between 10 a.m.-1 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Clients must be home to receive the meals. The meals are delivered in advance of seasonal holidays. Clients receive two meals on Monday and Wednesday and three meals on Friday.”
Lisa writes that the volunteers’ contact saves lives and allows seniors to remain independent in their own homes. Their seniors receive a monthly menu, information on other social service programs and are provided nutritional and preventive health information.
“We have about 60 volunteers but are always in need of Meals on Wheels volunteer drivers to deliver nutritious lunches in Napa County,” says Lisa. “Volunteers are typically expected to commit to a meal delivery once a week and routes usually take two hours to deliver.”
Drene Johnson is Can-V’s Executive Director. She says Meals on Wheels couldn’t run without its committed volunteers.
“The program wouldn’t be able to pay for the number of hours these volunteers work. They’re so dedicated. We have such a small staff to run the program; we could never serve the number of people we do without our volunteers. Pat is amazing. Fifteen years ago, she was my orientation person, and I did a ride along with her. The people on her route love her. She and the other volunteers are the heart of Meals on Wheels.”
Volunteer drivers begin in the parking lot at the Napa Senior Center at 1500 Jefferson Street. They have a drive-thru for the drivers to pick-up meals and delivery rosters. The food pick-up time for drivers is between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m., on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Pat says she enjoys the people on her route. “They are a lovely, diverse group.”
Has there been any excitement while volunteering?
“It’s always interesting. There’ve been a few falls and we’ve called the fire department for help.”
“I have no idea how many meals I’ve delivered over the years. I’ve had apartment houses on my route where there are a lot of people but they all live close to each other.”
“It’s rewarding and I get more out of it than I give. I try to spend about 10 minutes with each person. My daughter lives in North Carolina and when she retired, she became a Meals on Wheels volunteer. She enjoys it too.”
In her 40 years of service, she’s occasionally gone above and beyond her job duties.
“Years ago, there was a man who was worried about his declining health and was distressed about who would take care of his dog when he passed away. I said I’d take care of the dog, a sweet dachshund named Frankie. The man left a note that I should take the dog when the time came, and I did. My other dogs loved him and would come get me when Frankie crawled into an animal hole in the yard and couldn’t get out. I had Frankie eight more years and he lived to be 17 years old.”
“Another time a client in a mobile home park said a chicken had just appeared one day and no one claimed it. He’d looked after it on his screened porch but wouldn’t be allowed to keep it. I asked around and my neighbor, who had chickens, said she’d take the hen. I picked it up in a cat carrier. When the chicken laid an egg, I brought the egg to the man in the mobile home park; he was thrilled.”