Larry Atkinson, left, receives a meal from Erin Youngstrom for the Meals on Wheels program on Monday, May 23, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Larry Atkinson, left, receives a meal from Erin Youngstrom for the Meals on Wheels program on Monday, May 23, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

They have the meals, they need the wheels

Meals on Wheels struggles to find drivers

The nationwide worker shortage is hitting charity organizations too, and Juneau’s Meals on Wheels program is in search of volunteers.

Meals on Wheels is a national program administered locally by Catholic Community Service. Matt Walker, who oversees the local program, told the Empire the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically increased the number of seniors signing up for the program.

“We’re doing 200 meals a day, and we’re doing 15 routes,” Walker said. “We need 15 volunteers a day to get all those meals out. Prior to COVID, we had less than half the number of routes that we have now, we’re doing double the amount on a weekly basis, every single day.”

Finding that many drivers can be tricky, especially when there’s a volunteer workforce, Walker said.

“Two weeks ago I had 20 people on vacation,” Walker said.

What’s more, the worker shortage isn’t just impacting the number of volunteers, Walker said, staff positions are open too. Lately, drivers are delivering “shelf-stable” meals of dry goods instead of the hot, cooked meals typically served because CCS can’t find enough cooks. CCS is currently hiring cooks and site managers for the senior center. Walker said congregate meals used to be served at the Juneau Senior Center, but pandemic restrictions shut that down, which in turn led to increased demand for delivered meals.

[In last-minute move, Legislature passes early reading overhaul]

On Monday, Erin Youngstrom, an outreach coordinator for CCS, made meal deliveries in the Mendenhall Valley. Youngstrom said the shelf-stable meals aren’t as popular as the hot meals, but the organization just doesn’t have the staff to cook and prepare those meals. CCS hired Foodland IGA supermarket to make sandwiches for the program.

“We didn’t ask for a discount, it’s not a lack of funding for the program, just a lack of personnel,” Youngstrom said.

Meals are delivered at mid-day Monday through Friday, and Youngstrom said Juneau has a high population of retired people who sign up to make deliveries, but there’s a lot of turnover among volunteers. Youngstrom said there’s a misconception that volunteers will be asked to drive daily or weekly routes.

Helen Unruh and John Haywood unload prepared meals St. Paul’s Catholic Church for the Meals on Wheels program on Monday, May 23, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Helen Unruh and John Haywood unload prepared meals St. Paul’s Catholic Church for the Meals on Wheels program on Monday, May 23, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

“Volunteering is about do you have an hour, hour and a half once a month?” Youngstrom said. “Truly, do you have like 45 minutes once a month to take on a lunch route?’

Another issue for Juneau is the distance that sometimes needs to be covered, Walker said. The program doesn’t deliver past Auke Bay, but there are seniors in need of meals in every part of town, he said.

“It can be a logistical challenge,” Walker said.

But the program’s coordinators are hoping to raise awareness and attract volunteers who want to help seniors in the community. Both Youngstrom and Walker noted the Meals on Wheels program wasn’t just about delivering food to those in need. Sometimes Meals on Wheels drivers are the only contact some seniors have, Walker said, and visiting people at their homes allows volunteers to check up on them and offer additional services if necessary.

“We want to make sure that people in our community are taken care of,” Walker said. “The people that do this, they really love it because they’ve never driven down some of the roads that they go down, they meet people they would have never met otherwise.”

In the Mendenhall Valley Monday, Larry Atkinson said he was always happy to get his delivery.

“I’m grateful,” said Atkinson, who put on his Vietnam Veteran baseball cap before having his picture taken. “I count it as a blessing to me.”

Catholic Community Service is currently hiring cooks and kitchen staff for the Meals on Wheels program, those looking to apply can call (907)563-6150 or visit Those looking to volunteer to deliver for the Meals on Wheels program can email or call (907)463-6179.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

More in News

A Princess Cruise Line ship is docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the week of Sept. 25

Here’s what to expect this week.

Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire
Faith Rogers’ loved ones, from left to right, James Rogers (father), Michelle Rogers (sister), Harmony Wentz (daughter), Maria Rogers (mother) and Mindy Voigt (friend) sit with Faith’s three dogs in their family home. Faith Rogers, 55, of Juneau was found dead along a popular trail on Wednesday, Sept. 21. Police are investigating the death as a homicide.
‘It’s shocking’: Family hopes for answers after suspicious death of loved one

“She wanted to make things beautiful, to help make people beautiful…”

People work together to raise the Xa’Kooch story pole, which commemorates the Battle of the Inian Islands. (Shaelene Grace Moler / For the Capital City Weekly)
Resilient Peoples & Place: The Xa’Kooch story pole — one step toward a journey of healing

“This pole is for the Chookaneidi, but here among us, many clans are represented…”

A bracket fungus exudes guttation drops and a small fly appears to sip one of them.( Courtesy Photo / Bob Armstrong)
On the Trails: Water drops on plants

Guttation drops contain not only water but also sugars, proteins, and probably minerals.

A chart shows what critics claim is poor financial performance by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, especially in subsidizing private industry projects intended to boost the state’s economy, during its 55-year existence. The chart is part of a report released Tuesday criticizing the agency. (MB Barker/LLC Erickson & Associates/EcoSystems LLC)
AIDEA’s fiscal performance fishy, critics say

Report presented by salmon industry advocates asserts state business subsidy agency cost public $10B

Police vehicles gather Wednesday evening near Kaxdigoowu Héen Dei, also known as ]]Brotherhood Bridge Trail, while investigating a homicide. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
Police: Woman was walking dogs when she was killed

JPD said officers are working “around the clock” on the criminal investigation.

In this photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, a Coast Guard Cutter Kimball crew-member observes a foreign vessel in the Bering Sea, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter on routine patrol in the Bering Sea came across the guided missile cruiser from the People's Republic of China, officials said Monday, Sept. 26.  (U.S. Coast Guard District 17 via AP)
Patrol spots Chinese, Russian naval ships off Alaska island

This wasn’t the first time Chinese naval ships have sailed near Alaska waters.

An Alaska judge has ruled that a state lawmaker affiliated with the Oath Keepers, Rep. David Eastman, shown in this February 2022 photo, may stay on the general election ballot in November even though he's likely ineligible to hold public office  (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Judge keeps Oath Keepers lawmaker on November ballot

Judge ordered delaying certifying the result of the race until a trial scheduled for December.

Water rushes down Front Street, just a half block from the Bering Sea, in Nome, Alaska, on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022 as the remnants of Typhoon Merbok moved into the region. It was a massive storm system — big enough to cover the mainland U.S. from the Pacific Ocean to Nebraska and from Canada to Texas. It influenced weather systems as far away as California, where a rare late-summer storm dropped rain on the northern part of the state, offering a measure of relief to wildfire crews but also complicating fire suppression efforts because of mud and loosened earth. (AP Photo / Peggy Fagerstrom)
Repair work begins in some Alaska towns slammed by storm

ANCHORAGE — There’s been significant damage to some roads and homes in… Continue reading

Most Read