Lori Gillespie pulled into the driveway of a senior apartment complex in Arroyo Grande on Tuesday morning, scanned a list of names and pulled a dozen sealed white containers and brown paper bags out of insulated red bags.
Frequently consulting her list, Gillespie walked around the complex, balancing the containers in her arms, knocking on residents’ doors and handing over today’s hot lunch: a pork rib patty, potatoes, pickled beets, orange slices, an oatmeal cookie and milk or juice.
“I haven’t cooked in years, so this is pretty good,” said Sandy Bennett, 73, who receives two hot lunches a week and two frozen meals to reheat on weekends, reducing the number of trips she has to make to the store.
Gillespie chatted for a few minutes and then continued with her deliveries. By the end of her volunteer shift, she had handed out meals to 17 seniors at their homes.
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“Not only do they get a well-rounded meal, they also get checked on,” she said.
Gillespie is one of about 100 to 150 volunteers who spend one to two hours a week delivering lunches to seniors around the county for the Senior Nutrition Program of San Luis Obispo County, a nonprofit organization.
Other volunteers prepare and cook daily meals and serve food to seniors at 10 sites around the county (the organization also has about 30 full- and part-time staff). The program is free for people older than 60 who live in San Luis Obispo County, though donations are accepted.
“The volunteers do a great job,” Executive Director Elias Nimeh said. “They save us money and allow us to serve more meals.”
But during the summer, many take vacations, and the organization has a shortage of drivers in the Atascadero, San Luis Obispo and Oceano areas, he said.
At the same time, the number of seniors asking for a hot meal has jumped, especially in the South County.
Drivers now deliver meals to 177 seniors in the South County, up from 123 a year ago. From June 2010 through May, they delivered 21,500 meals in the South County and served 172,000 countywide to homebound seniors and at 10 lunch sites.
Nimeh said the driver shortage is so bad in Oceano that he’s stopped accepting new clients for home delivery and has started a waiting list.
“If the routes get too long, the food will not be safe to deliver,” he said. “The main issue more than anything else is the safety of the seniors.”
Volunteers generally drive one day a week for about an hour to 90 minutes starting about 10 a.m. from Monday through Friday.
For information on the program or to volunteer, go to www.snpslo.org or call 541-3312.
Cynthia Lambert and Gayle Cuddy write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.