For some local seniors, lunchtime is the highlight of the day.

It’s the time when a volunteer arrives at the door with a lunch courtesy of Meals on Wheels.

“For many seniors, it’s the only time they get to see another person,” said Kim McClinton, Gainesville manager for the TriCounty Senior Nutrition Project.

Like many other organizations, Meals on Wheels relies on its volunteers.

The Gainesville branch of the TriCounty Senior Nutrition Project — the agency which organizes and directs the operation of 17 senior citizen centers and their Meals on Wheels programs — serves over 100 meals a day to local residents.

Monday morning, McClinton said she and her staff were preparing food for 132 residents.

She said she’s seen an increase in the number of seniors who request assistance with their noon meals.

The increased client load makes volunteer drivers essential.

And right now, the center is short on drivers.

“We have had an increase in the number of people that we serve, and we are always needing more drivers,” McClinton said.

The organization has several routes available, but volunteers need not sign up for any particular route.

“We are happy to accommodate any availability you may have to assist us,” McClinton said.

Volunteers deliver meals between 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Most drivers deliver one day a week.

“But you may volunteer as often as you like, from once a day to once a month,” she said.

Program volunteers say the organization has expanded its services.

“During the past year, we took on the additional duty of providing meals for senior citizens on the weekends. This additional service is not covered by our funding and public support is still needed to guarantee we can continue the program,” Volunteer Merle Currie said in an interview in mid-April.

Four meal centers serve Cooke County — Callisburg, Valley View, Muenster and Gainesville.

All meals are prepared in the Gainesville center, according to Currie.

He said Meals on Wheels was an organization without a real home for a long time.

Forced out of its former location in the Pecan Creek Village center on Lawrence Street by the June 2007 flooding, the group set up a temporary headquarters at First Christian Church.

“The church was very good to allow us to use their facility,” McClinton said in a previous interview. But Meals on Wheels officials wanted a permanent place for their operation. Last year, they found and purchased a building at 400 South Weaver Street.

The purchase was possible, Currie said, because of the “generous support” of residents and businesses and thanks to help from Cooke County United Way.

“This upgrade gives us greater flexibility in meeting the needs of our clients and allows us to centrally prepare meals and store materials,” Currie said.

He said enrollment in the food program remains fairly constant. There are approximately 135 individuals enrolled in the Meals on Wheels program in Gainesville.

Another 50 individuals receive meals in other Cooke County locations.

“Two days a week we cook for Valley View and Callisburg. We also do 32 meals a week for Muenster on the days they are closed,” said McClinton.

Staff members are also hoping to increase awareness for its lunchtime meal services.

“We want to let people that they can come here and eat,” she said.

Center staff serve meals between 11:30 and 1 p.m. each day.

No payment is required for the lunches, but donations are accepted “if they can afford to pay,” McClinton said.

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