Gardena Meals on Wheels putts along

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He sits at the dining room table in his modest one bedroom apartment in Gardena, where he lives alone, reminiscing about his past as he waits for a knock on the front door.

Guy Sibley, 89, leans back in his chair as he casually mentions the time during his service as a Navy Seabee in WW II when he narrowly escaped being killed by a Japanese airstrike at Henderson Airfield, located on the South-Pacific island of Guadalcanal.

He sits at the dining room table in his modest one bedroom apartment in Gardena, where he lives alone, reminiscing about his past as he waits for a knock on the front door.

Guy Sibley, 89, leans back in his chair as he casually mentions the time during his service as a Navy Seabee in WW II when he narrowly escaped being killed by a Japanese airstrike at Henderson Airfield, located on the South-Pacific island of Guadalcanal.

He changes the subject and talks about the 15 years he worked in his family's machine shop in Gardena and the 20 years he spent as a machinist for Allied Chemical, now called Allied Signal.

The anticipated knock on the door interrupts Sibley's verbal reveries and with a wide smile on his face he invites in Meals on Wheels volunteer Tom Nakayama, who is there to drop off lunch.

Sibley is one of more than 100 senior citizens in Gardena who depends on the daily meals that are delivered through the Gardena Senior Citizens Bureau’s Meals on Wheels program; a program that is desperately in need of more volunteers, Lauren Mataalii, nutrition services coordinator for the Recreation and Human Services Department, said.

“It's a dire situation because we can't run it (Meals on Wheels) with only staff,” Mataalii said.

In past years, there had been as many as 50 volunteers working for the program, which is partly funded by a grant created by the federal Area Agency on Aging Through the Older Americans Act of 1965 and partly funded by donations.

The number of volunteers has dwindled to 32, the majority of which are senior citizens themselves, with many of the volunteers only able to help once or twice a week, Mataalii said.

“We get a lot of seniors that come in here (to volunteer) because their spouses have the service or a relative or a brother or sister has had the service, and we get a lot that come in because they want to give back to the community now that they have more time on their hands being retired,” Mataalii said.

One reason the number of volunteers is dropping is that some of the older volunteers are not physically able to do the work anymore or have passed away, she said.

Volunteers deliver hot meals to participating senior citizens five days a week with added frozen meals delivered on Fridays to cover the weekends and it takes from 12 to 14 volunteers per day to make it happen.

“We're one of the few agencies in the area that still serves a hot meal,” Mataalii said. “Most agencies have gone to frozen meals, so they'll serve a weeks worth of frozen meals and it's just not as nice or as comforting as a hot meal.”

To qualify to receive meals a person must be older than 60, not have family or friends able to provide meals to them every day, and live within the Gardena service area covered by Meals on Wheels' five routes.

For some meal recipients – like Sibley, who doesn't have any family left to come visit him and who spends much of his time alone – the Meals on Wheels volunteers provide more than just a hot lunch.

“They bring it (the meal) right in here and set it on the table and talk to me for five or ten minutes then take off and go back,” Sibley said. “It really makes it good because they’re interested in what I do and I'm interested in what they do, and what’s going on and all that kind of stuff, so it really helps me out a lot.”

Craig Sanada, a retired teacher who has been a volunteer driver for Meals on Wheels for five years, said that his time with the program has been well spent.

“I love (volunteering),” Sanada said. “I don't even consider this work. I enjoy every minute of it.”

He agreed with Mataalii that the program needed more volunteers to help keep its head above water.

“We're short on help and even two hours once a week would be really appreciated because the staff works very hard and we're hard pressed at times to satisfy the needs of our clients,” he said.

A driver and an assistant are needed for each of the five daily routes covered by the program, as well as several extra volunteers to help pack the food, which is prepared by the Gardena-based catering service, Tender Loving Care, Mataalii said.

Volunteers can work as many days a week as they choose and there is no long term commitment required. The time commitment per day is between one-and-a-half to two hours.

Anyone wishing to volunteer can contact the office of the Senior Citizens Bureau, located at the Nakaoka Community Center, by calling 310-217-9552.