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Alameda Meals on Wheels Celebrates 50 Years

Every day for the past 50 years, cheerful volunteers have gathered at the Alameda Meals on Wheels headquarters at 9 a.m. to pack up meals for delivery to recipients on that morning’s routes. Rain or shine, seven days a week, 365 days a year—including holidays—volunteers here in Alameda continue to bring meals to people in our community who are unable to prepare food for themselves.

Alameda Post - four people pose together at the Meals on Wheels anniversary celebration
Volunteers, recipients, and board members enjoy the Meals on Wheels 50th Anniversary Celebration. Photo Peri Drake.

On weekends, the volunteers often include families—men and women, singles and couples, moms, dads, children, grandparents, and grandchildren. Altogether, about 120 volunteers deliver food to as many as 200 participants each day. That adds up to more than 70,000 meals a year—twice that many if you consider that each delivery includes both a hot dinner and a bag lunch.

The meals are prepared each morning in the kitchen at Bayview Nursing Center, where the Meals on Wheels office also is located. Each meal is prepared to accommodate specific dietary needs and preferences and is labeled for the individual recipient. There is no charge for these daily meals. Technically there is a sliding scale, ranging from zero to $6.50, but participants are not required to pay anything, and most do not, according to Executive Director Peri Drake.



Alameda Post - Meals on Wheels Executive Director Peri Drake
Executive Director Peri Drake. Photo Jenn Heflin.

A simple knock on the door

When volunteers deliver the meals, a simple knock on a participant’s door means the food has arrived. It’s a knock that, as the national organization has said, “can transform lives.” Being a part of that transformation is what motivates Drake.

“I love being a part of helping people get a nutritious meal,” Drake said. “I have been fortunate to never have been food insecure, and can only imagine how difficult that is, particularly for seniors.”

Drake started as a volunteer for Meals on Wheels in 2017. “My kids were in school most of the day and I was looking for a way to spend my time and give back to the community,” she said. “It was a good fit.”

Two years later, in October 2019, Drake was hired as the organization’s case worker. “I visited recipients to make sure they were safe in their homes and to see if we could direct them to any other services,” she said.

Within a few months, COVID hit, and working in a busy office became a possible health risk for many people. At longtime Executive Director Rosemary Reilly’s request, Drake started working in the office. Reilly, who had already fulfilled a distinguished 30-year career with Alameda Meals on Wheels, retired and Drake was hired to be the new executive director.

Alameda Post - two people stand and present at the Meals on Wheels anniversary celebration
Past board president Mark Sorensen with current president Ed Kofman. Photo Peri Drake.

50-year anniversary

The idea for Alameda Meals on Wheels was first suggested in 1971 when Martha Killebrew, who was with the Alameda Committee on Aging at the time, and Abe Kofman, who was editor and publisher of the Alameda Times-Star, were seated together during the annual dinner meeting of the Visiting Nurses Association at the Alameda Naval Air Station Officers Club. Killebrew brought up the Meals on Wheels concept, Kofman loved it, and one thing led to another until Alameda Meals on Wheels delivered its first meals—from the school cafeteria—in 1973.

On October 15 this year, the organization celebrated its 50th anniversary with a joyous party for employees, volunteers, sponsors, and friends in the lobby of College of Alameda’s new building. The gathering commemorated the milestone and honored volunteers and other supporters who have contributed to the success of the program, according to Alameda Meals on Wheels President Ed Kofman—Abe Kofman’s grandson.

Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft spoke, and Councilmember Tracy Jensen read the City’s proclamation declaring October 2023 as Alameda Meals on Wheels Anniversary month, Kofman said. Most of the celebrants were volunteers.

“It was nice because they were able to meet people who volunteer on other days,” Kofman noted. “They usually only see the people on the day that they volunteer.”

Alameda Post - volunteers pack and transport food in hot bags
Volunteers pick up food for delivery. Photo Jenn Heflin.

A family affair

Some volunteers have been involved for decades. Anna Coplan has been delivering meals for as long as she can remember. A lifelong Alamedan, she and her older sister started when they were just kids. They went along with their father, Jim Coplan, on his Sunday delivery route. He started as an Alameda Meals on Wheels volunteer at least 40 years ago.

“On the last Sunday of the month we would deliver meals instead of going to church,” Anna said. “He volunteered for this and took us along because it was a good way to show his children altruistic behavior and good citizenship.”

Jim has now retired from volunteering, but Anna and her sister continue to deliver meals one Sunday a month, often with their own children along to help.

“I decided to keep the tradition going because I really admire his spirit,” Anna said. “He has this ability to take care of older people just because it’s the right thing to do. It’s a wonderful program and it helps so many people.”

She highly recommends volunteering for Meals on Wheels. “It’s just such a good thing to do,” she said. “The meals are healthy, the staff is pleasant, and the commitment is minimal. For me, it really is a perfect way to spend one Sunday a month.”

Kofman had a similar experience with his family. His kids also went along with him on his volunteer route.

“I think it teaches them to do community service and think beyond themselves, to think about helping other people,” he said. That philosophy—and opportunity—is often embraced by Alameda families who volunteer on weekends for Meals on Wheels, he added. “There are a lot of families here who do that or have done that.”

To learn more or to volunteer, visit the Alameda Meals on Wheels website or call 510-865-6131 weekdays 9 a.m. to noon.

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Friendly Visitors Director Jane Neal with volunteer Dolores Campbell. Photo Peri Drake.

Finding more people—and more ways—to help

Throughout its existence, Alameda Meals on Wheels has continually reached out to the community to try to get the word out to people who could benefit from their services, Kofman said. “Just give us a call.”

The organization also expanded their services. In 2004, they added the Friendly Visitors Program, which offers personal visits to Alameda residents who are homebound or living in a care center.

“A lot of people living in care centers don’t have family or friends to visit them,” Drake said. “So, they may get staff checking on them, but it’s nice to have someone come to visit and talk with them.” Volunteers visit once a week for one to two hours and often follow up with phone check-ins between visits.

There are currently around 70 people getting these visits. For more information on how you can participate, call the program director, Jane Neal, at 510-748-0342.

Another initiative the organization is considering is to provide emergency food packs— five days of shelf-stable food that can be used in an emergency such as an earthquake or a disaster.

“It would put food in people’s hands if there was some kind of disaster that interrupted service,” Kofman said. “We’re constantly looking for ways that we can provide meaningful services with the ultimate objective of keeping people independent so they can live their lives in a good way, in their own homes.”

Alameda Post - two volunteers hold food and smile
Service with a smile! Photo Jenn Heflin.

Who pays for all this?

Alameda Meals on Wheels is unique in that it is supported entirely by the community and accepts no government funding. Because of this, the organization is able to help all who need it, not just seniors. The greatest source of income is donations from individuals and sponsorships from local businesses.

Current sponsors include Alameda Firefighters IAFF Local 689, Alameda Welfare Council, Bank of Marin, Edward Jones – Dominic McKenna, Greer Family Mortuary and Cremation Services, Jiva Creative, Mastick Senior Center, Meals on Wheels of Alameda County, Lubin Olson & Niewiadomski LLP, Red Tie Printing, State Farm Insurance – Kelly Lux, and Star One Credit Union.

If you want to contribute, you can make a one-time or monthly donation online. Your donations are tax deductible.

Liz Barrett is the Copy Editor of the Alameda Post and writes about our community. Contact her via [email protected]. Her writing is collected at AlamedaPost.com/Liz-Barrett.

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