Forest Grove Meals on Wheels drivers leave under cloud of controversy

Photo Credit: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Former Forest Grove Senior & Community Center director John Schallberger ordered the installation of 'no parking' signage in 2012. The move ruffled some Meals on Wheels drivers' feathers because they'd been parking there for the better part of a decade.Depending on who you talk to, Bob Evens and Dan Klee were either two of the most dedicated volunteers Forest Grove’s Meals on Wheels People program has ever had — or troublemakers who could quickly turn hostile and felt entitled to flout certain rules.

One thing is certain: they’ve both been banned from the program.

The ban has prompted a third dedicated volunteer, Alberta Peterson (Evens’ sister), to quit on her own, shaking up an important local service that is perennially short of volunteers.

Meals on Wheels People (MOWP) provides healthy lunches to low-income, homebound seniors and also provides free weekday lunches for seniors at the Forest Grove Senior & Community Center (FGSCC).

With 10 to 12 homebound seniors on seven different routes, five days a week, that adds up to 35 delivery trips a week, which is why the program is always soliciting volunteer drivers.

So it’s a problem when clashes between volunteers and administrators prompt drivers to stop volunteering.

Amid the frustration and fingerpointing, some people are wondering how tensions were allowed to progress to this point and are still hoping to find a way to untangle the mess.

“Good people, all of them: staff trying to do a job they were new to, and dedicated volunteers who thought they knew how to do it better,” said Teresa Kohl, a community service officer with the Forest Grove Police Department and a certified volunteer mediator who thinks mediation might help solve the problem.

The new permanent director of the FGSCC will have to weigh in on how to deal with the problem moving forward.

Raean Johnston, who was hired last Friday, Aug. 1, was scrambling to understand the situation at the local MOWP, which is located in the senior center. “I do know (Meals on Wheels) drivers are wonderful,” she said.

Passionate volunteers

Bob Evens, 74, has been delivering meals to vulnerable local seniors for 10 years. “He only had an actual scheduled route once a week but he came in every day in case I needed somebody,” recalls Theresa Carter, who managed Forest Grove’s MOWP program until last August, when she left to help her ailing mother. “He actually did three routes in one day, bless his heart.”

Financially, Evens refused the 40-cents-per-mile expense payment he could have collected for the gas he used as a driver. “I’ll dig a little deeper into my wallet if I have to,” he told the News-Times last year.

His sister, Alberta Peterson, oversaw the volunteers who packed the meals into the coolers. “If somebody was missing, either she would take (their workload) or she would find somebody to take it,” Carter said. “I didn’t ever have to worry about packers. Packing is not an easy chore. I felt blessed.”

Klee collected food from Winco and the Oregon Food Bank to supplement the MOWP meals and the senior center’s free food supply, Carter said. He also volunteered to drive at least one route a week to deliver meals and he donated all the crab for the crab-feed fundraiser each year.

All three also made generous financial donations to the program.

Tensions build slowly

A new MOWP manager, Natasha Spoden, took over last September, shortly after Carter left.

By March, Evens says, Spoden sensed there were tensions between her and some of the volunteers — including Evens — and asked him to sit down with them and find out what was wrong.

Evens, who lives in Hillsboro but grew up in Forest Grove, appreciated the idea and wrote a memo to Spoden listing the volunteers’ concerns, starting with the complaint that she canceled or “gave away” several MOWP fundraisers which he, Klee and Peterson had generously supported.

Spoden said part of the problem was a misunderstanding (one such decision had been made before she came on board); part was due to the fact that the fundraisers weren’t making much money, if any; and part was her own fault for not checking with the volunteers about loaning out fundraiser supplies she later learned they’d purchased with their own money.

“I had egg on my face for that,” Spoden said.

The fundraiser issue was the first of seven concerns about everything from clothing requirements to directives about the quality of donated food.

“You have a considerable number of well-educated and experienced volunteer personnel available to you and they want to be used,” Evens wrote in the memo.

Spoden met with Evens and Klee to talk over the concerns and felt good about how it went.

“I apologized,” she said. “I thought in March we were cool.

“It blew into a powder keg so quickly.”

Perfect storm

In June, Oregon Food Bank employees contacted Spoden to say that Klee was violating some rules for picking up food, including rules related to parking, said John Schallberger, former FGSCC director.

The first time, food bank staff trained Klee to make sure he understood the rules, Spoden said, but when he failed to comply and they contacted Spoden again, she had to take Klee off food-bank duty.

Shortly afterward, the parking problem at the FGSCC escalated (see story below).

Klee, Spoden said, decided she was making unilateral decisions and became rude, abusive and disrespectful, to the point that some concerned volunteers spoke to her privately about his behavior.

Spoden left the center because “she couldn’t put up with [Klee’s and Evens’] belligerence and disrespect,” said Brent Horn, who oversees the Forest Grove meal site (and 33 others) as chief operating officer for the regional Meals on Wheels People organization.

“This is not a turf war — it’s an obstinate thing on their part,” said Horn. “Dan won the tug of war with John [Schallberger], but I’m responsible for the comfort and safety of all the seniors at the Forest Grove meal site, not just some.”

“Dan is outspoken, but his heart is definitely with the seniors,” Carter said.

“There were times where each one of them disagreed with me on things,” she said of the three, “but it never got to the point where we could not come to a compromise.”

Driver shortage

Klee was banned from the MOWP program and the senior center in June. Evens left the program a few days later, in protest over Klee’s treatment.

He came back last week at his sister’s request.

“We’re extremely short of drivers,” said Peterson, who was still packing meals last week. “I begged Bob to come back and drive.”

Evens delivered meals Monday and Tuesday, but when he pulled into the “No Parking” zone Wednesday, July 30, Horn came out and banned him from the program.

Other volunteer drivers have recently left as well, with estimates ranging from “a couple” (says Horn) to 24 (says Klee).

“Some of the other drivers are stepping up and filling in the gaps, but we’re not there yet,” Horn said. “It’s sad, mostly for the seniors who are shut in.”

If he’s willing to comply with parking regulations, “Bob can come back,” Horn said Friday. “Dan is a little different story. Dan’s been extremely irreverent. He’s going to have to work with us.”

Evens said Monday he hadn’t ruled out a possible return.

State of emergency

During recent budget talks, Forest Grove City Councilor Elena Uhing, who has been openly critical of the senior center’s managerial practices, voted against giving the center $10,000 in financial aid for center operations.

“I was the only ‘nay’ vote,” said Uhing. “I wanted some restrictions placed on the way the center could use it — I’d like some tighter procedures in place.”

She cited a “lack of process” as her major concern, along with “everything always being in an emergency state over there.”

The check hasn’t been cut yet, she added.

Spoden, who agrees that Klee, Evens and Peterson were incredibly dedicated MOWP volunteers, is skeptical that any sort of mediation can help resolve the problem because the environment is so toxic.

In addition, she remembers the volunteers who objected to Klee’s and Evens’ behavior and worries that letting the two return might send a message that the behavior was okay.

Kohl, who has practiced various forms of mediation for 14 years, believes it’s still worth a try.

One key player who will have to weigh in is Raean Johnston, former director of the Jennings McCall Center and now the new FGSCC director. She’s also married to Forest Grove City Councilor Tom Johnston.

She’ll have a new MOWP Manager to work with — coincidentally, someone whose first name sounds just like hers. Forest Grove Resident Rayann Warncke was hired this week as center manager of the senior meal program run by MOWP in town.

“My job will be to work closely with her,” said Johnston, “If there ever comes a problem, you work to solve it. It’s not rocket science.”

Meals on Wheels drivers, execs clash over parking

A recent blowup at the Forest Grove Senior & Community Center and the loss of three longtime, dedicated Meals on Wheels volunteers may come down to a 15-by-30 foot patch of asphalt.

Brent Horn, chief operating officer for Meals on Wheels People, a nonprofit offering free meal delivery to homebound seniors in Washington, Multnomah and Clark counties, said two of the volunteers — Bob Evens and Dan Klee — insisted on parallel-parking near the senior center’s front doors, sometimes for several hours at a time, lingering over coffee or lunch on the days they delivered meals.

Although the circular drive and parking area isn’t an official fire zone, it’s an “active pick-up and drop-off” area for seniors who use RideConnection or come to the center for meals and other activities, Horn said.

The volunteers’ flagrant parking violations were unacceptable because the local MOWP’s landlord — the senior center, which is owned by the city — activated a no-parking zone in 2012, said Horn.

Klee, Evens and one other volunteer “would block the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) portion of the sidewalk and interfere with staff helping seniors with walkers and canes,” said Horn, who manages 34 MOW sites, including Forest Grove’s. “They were rude, disrespectful and belligerent.”

Klee and Evens tell a different story. They say neither Horn nor former MOWP interim manager Natasha Spoden would listen to their ideas or concerns, but were instead overbearing and dismissive. They parked near the doors, Klee and Evens said, because the food coolers were too heavy for them to carry a long way.

Former senior center director John Schallberger attempted to solve the parking stalemate but says he let it go when Klee and Evans turned volatile.

“They said, basically, ‘Screw you.’ They got really, really hostile,” Schallberger said. “I didn’t have the time to fight that battle.”

After Schallberger left the center in June, Interim Director Kathleen Redwine talked to Spoden about enforcing the no-parking zone and Spoden said she directed Klee and Evans to park elsewhere.

“Dan said he’d abide by the rules, and then he parked another of his vehicles in a different no-parking area,” Horn said.

Klee was unapologetic about the parking: “I was told I couldn’t park in a certain place, and I did anyway.”

At one point, Spoden called police after Klee “made derogatory comments,” Horn said.

Soon after the police visit, Horn came out to Forest Grove to monitor the situation.

“I sat outside the door. Up came Bob Evens and he parked his van by the door,” said Horn. “I stood up and told him he couldn’t do that.”

Horn says Evens “went off” and was “hot under the collar.”

Evens says Horn was “angry and shouting.”

Horn acknowledged the pair’s value but indicated he wouldn’t make an exception to the parking rule. “These guys were ideal, model volunteers,” he said. “They just don’t want to be told what to do.”

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