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Without the volunteer drivers at Meals on Wheels, one elderly woman might have starved to death.

“If we don’t stay in the house and open the meal and sit with her, she won’t eat,” said Theresa Carter, manager of Forest Grove’s Meals on Wheels program.

The program offers nutrition and a familiar face to homebound seniors in Forest Grove or Cornelius.

But it depends on volunteer drivers to deliver the meals, and right now it’s seven drivers short.

Each driver takes a set route or routes, Carter said, so they get to know the seniors on their route: “It’s like having all kinds of grandmas and grandpas.”

Each route serves 10 to 12 people aged 60 or over and takes about two hours to cover. Seven routes, five days a week, adds up to 35 slots for volunteers.

"Delivering meals is a project many parents do with their children to have their children learn what it's like to give back to the community," said Elly Ritchie, manager for Hillsboro's Meals on Wheels program.

Ritchie currently has one parent-child pair delivering meals this summer. Unless a family homeschools, however, "the trouble is when school starts. Then we need more drivers again," she said.

With the driver shortage in Forest Grove, volunteer Bob Evans is busy every day.

Evans, 73, likes delivering, which he's been doing since 2004. "It's for me as much as it is for the seniors,” he said. “You get a lot of companionship from volunteering. You’re surrounded by good people.”

Evans has stories from every route, as he drives them all.

He had been delivering to two clients near Hagg Lake and helped them make a connection.

“I introduced them to one another and now they are dating!” Evans exclaimed.

He’s delivered to retired Pacific professor, a burn victim, an alcoholic — and the list goes on. The drivers also hang out together after rounds, he said. They grab dinner and a movie together occasionally and Evans describes them as a little family.

For the 50 or so seniors who can get there, Meals on Wheels also serves meals at the Forest Grove Senior and Community Center, where it is based. There, volunteers spend time with seniors who are disabled or suffering from dementia, giving their caregivers a brief respite during the lunch hour.

Senior volunteers also help serve the meals, Carter said. "The beauty of it is they hold their dignity and get a free meal.”

Evans' dedication to Meals on Wheels goes beyond the wheel. He donated to the program by entering his car into a car show fundraiser on July 20. Every month, $30 is automatically deducted from his paycheck and goes straight to Meals on Wheels.

And while Meals on Wheels offers 40 cents per mile for drivers, Evans chooses to pay out of his own pocket.

“I’ll dig a little deeper into my wallet if I have to,” said Evans, who hopes new volunteer drivers will join him soon.

“I don’t usually drive this often, but I’ve been driving every day and have been for several weeks,” he said. “We are always looking for more drivers.”

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