The Beacon of H.O.P.E. Meals on Wheels program is now offering service five days a week, instead of the three previously offered due to the help of Edward Jones in Matlacha.
Robert Montgomery, who has been a driver for the past three or four years, has been in charge of the program for a few years. He is responsible for finding, training and scheduling drivers for the program, as well as keeping in contact with Community Cooperative Ministries Inc. to make sure the Beacon's policies coincide with its.
CCMI, a non-profit social service organization based in Fort Myers, prepares the meals that are delivered to clients on Pine Island. They prepare and deliver 400 meals a day in the Lee County area. The deliveries consist of a hot meal that is at least one-third of the recommended daily allowance, a cold beverage, bread and cookies when available.
"We operate from their umbrella and get their meals from them," Montgomery said for those who receive the services on Pine Island. "The Beacon is the delivery arm on Pine Island."
The Beacon of H.O.P.E. Meals on Wheels program is currently going through a transition and expansion phase because of the huge need for the service on the island.
Montgomery said the most significant change that the Beacon made is delivering meals every weekday.
"Before we would only deliver on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays," he said. "The client got two of exactly the same meal on Monday, a different meal, but two meals on Wednesday and on Friday they got three identical meals. The disadvantage with that, if you didn't like the meal, you had two that you didn't like."
The change in the scheduling from three days to Monday through Friday occurred when the Edward Jones office in Matlacha offered the Beacon of H.O.P.E. space for deliveries to be made by CCMI.
"We negotiated an arrangement with the Edward Jones Brokerage office in Matlacha," Montgomery said. "They are allowing the CCMI delivery folks to deliver the new meals to their office and they hold them."
The Beacon's drivers go to the Edward Jones office and pick up the meals, which only takes about a third of the time than previous arrangements when they had to travel into Cape Coral to the CCMI location.
The convenience of the office now allows the Beacon to deliver one meal on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and two meals on Thursday and Friday to cover the weekend.
"The response has been really good," Montgomery said of the change.
The Meals on Wheels program is two-fold.
"One is to get food to people that ordinarily have difficulty of obtaining groceries and cooking meals for themselves," he said. "Number two, we visit them and talk with them and brighten their day. Being able to do that every day as opposed to three times a week has helped improve the quality of our service."
There are currently 40 people who drive at least once a month for the Meals on Wheels program, which includes volunteers from the United Methodist Church, Matlacha Hookers and the Beacon of H.O.P.E.
Vicki Matsko, a member of the Matlacha Hookers, said the Beacon of H.O.P.E. presented the idea to the organization and asked if the members could do deliveries every Tuesday, which they agreed to do because it would give them the opportunity to help the seniors on the island.
"I happened to be the first volunteer and then became in charge of it," Matsko said. "I love taking care of older people, I just think we don't do enough for seniors."
She said she was hooked after her first run with Montgomery.
There are currently 12 Hookers that are involved in the program. Two groups of two Hookers each deliver food on the north end and the south end of the island every Tuesday.
"Everybody is doing a great job and really enjoys what we are doing," she said, adding that being involved offers lots of rewards with little effort. "It is very rewarding, very touching. You just want to do more for these people, they are dear souls."
Montgomery said they are now focusing on getting the word out that the Beacon offers Meals on Wheels.
"The client has to meet qualifications of having a difficulty of obtaining groceries and they have to have difficulty in preparing their meals," he said of those who qualify to receive the services.
Those difficulties can be because of physical limitations, lack of transportation or insufficient financial resources.
If a caregiver is temporarily out of town, they can call the Beacon to make sure their loved one eats at least once a day and is checked on.
The meals are priced on a sliding scale based on what they can afford up to $3.99 a day. More than half of the Beacon's clients do not pay for the service and those who do are billed by CCMI once a month.
"There are a lot of people out there on Pine Island that meet the criteria, but don't know about the program or realize they are having financial troubles," he said.
Right now Montgomery said they have between 15-20 clients who live in Matlacha, St. James City and Bokeelia.
Enrollment forms for the program are located at the Beacon of H.O.P.E. Individuals who would like to discuss their eligibility for the program can call 239-283-5123. If and when approved, meal delivery usually begins in three workdays.
Montgomery said he mostly enjoys the interaction he has with clients when out on his driving route.
"Seeing that smile of thanks and having the chance to talk," he said, means a lot to him.
Montgomery said he brings his laptop with him to one of his client's homes because the client likes looking at pictures he took while traveling to Southeast Asia.
Montgomery said every volunteer with Meals on Wheels is required to have eye-to-eye contact with their clients to make sure they are OK.