High school students prepare for graduation through volunteerism

Fort Frances High School continues to coordinate with Riverside Healthcare through the Meals on Wheels food delivery program enabling students to work toward their required 40 volunteer hours for graduation while gaining life skills and unforgettable experiences.

Across the district, organizations have found it difficult to continue services due to a shortage of volunteers.

When Alana Stewart, student support navigator at Fort Frances High School (FFHS), saw an advertisement in the newspaper that the Meals on Wheels (MOW) program was looking for volunteers, she contacted Sheri Monahan, food service coordinator from Riverside, to see how high school students could get involved.

This year marks the second year of FFHS’s participation in the MOW program.

“The students that have been participating seem to enjoy it! I feel that getting the students involved in the community is very important,” said Stewart.

“Personally I’ve noticed a downward trend of community volunteerism-there are weekly ads in the paper for many organizations looking for help, and many people and organizations rely on volunteering to function. I hope that participating in the MOW program opens the door for students to consider getting involved in their community in any way and increases the likelihood of them volunteering throughout their lives.”

“Volunteering has many benefits: it increases self esteem, connects them to the community, creates relationships between the youth and the elderly, teaches social skills, gets students out of their comfort zones, allows them an opportunity to work towards getting their 40 hours of volunteering in order to graduate, and is beneficial to put on their resumes,” Stewart said.

“We go pick up the meals together from the hospital. Then we drive around to the community members we deliver to, drop their meals off, and say hello and chit chat briefly if the client initiates conversation,” Stewart said.

MOW is a healthy hot meal option for clients that have difficulties making their own meals at home. For only $8.00, clients are delivered a main plate and two sides, soup and dessert. The meals are delivered to a variety of groups including seniors, people with physical disabilities and cognitive impairments, individuals suffering from illnesses and recovering from surgeries, and those who need special dietary planning and assistance.

“This program is unique because the meals are delivered directly to clients. A bonus is they are also prepared by a certified Chef and follow the Canada Food Guide. The volunteers who deliver add a personal touch and strengthen the sense of community,” said Monahan, food service supervisor from Riverside who helps coordinate the initiative with FFHS.

Naudia Rose Traubenik, a student volunteer from FFHS, said she’ll likely receive all her required hours through the MOW program. Out of all the volunteer opportunities available to students, Traubenik enjoys volunteering for the MOW program because of the interactions with residents in the community. “I think this one’s probably one of the better ones because you experience more.”

“One thing that I really liked from doing my deliveries was like, the elderly ladies, they’d get really happy just to see someone young doing something like that. And they would always say to me that they’re proud to see me doing this. And it makes me happy. It makes my day,” Traubenik said.

Traubenik decided to volunteer for the MOW program after receiving encouragement from teachers in the student support room where she often went to catch up on homework.

“A lot of students nowadays are socially awkward just because of COVID. And they’re comfortable talking to their parents and their grandparents, but they’re not comfortable talking to adults that they don’t know,” Traubenik said.

“And I think it’s kind of sad because the society we live in and stuff like, you’re scared to talk to adults because you never know their intentions. But with the Meals on Wheels program it’s never anything sketchy. It’s always just meeting nice new people. But I think a lot of [students] are just scared of strangers.”

“If I was trying to convince a friend I’d probably just let them know it’s fun. You get volunteer hours for just missing one lunch from something that you’d just be sitting around,” Traubenik said.

“And Alana is fun,” she said, explaining that she enjoys deliveries with Stewart when they can chat during car rides. “All you’re doing is cruising around in a truck, picking up food and dropping it off to people and saying hi, that’s all it is. And it’s nice. It’s easy.”

Being in her last year of high school makes in-person opportunities more memorable to Traubenik who hopes to pursue studies in environmental science in southern Ontario. “I’m very excited that I’m graduating. I’m a little sad that I didn’t get to experience all of high school, but it feels good that I’ll get to experience more next year,” she said.

FFHS will continue to volunteer while students are still in school, excluding summer break and holidays such as Christmas and March Break. Riverside runs the program Monday to Friday, excluding holidays.

Stewart emphasizes that the school does not volunteer many hours with the MOW program considering that it is a daily operation and FFHS volunteers to do a fraction of the deliveries on Tuesdays, but that she appreciates the opportunity for students to collaborate with Riverside and their willingness to work with students.

Only two or three students are able to volunteer per week due to the maximum number of seats in a car. Students interested can visit Stewart in room 136. Stewart said FFHS will continue to volunteer in the MOW program as long as she can keep it going.

“The delivery service is made possible by the wonderful volunteers through community organizations, groups, or just individuals that enjoy delivering meals. We are always in need of more volunteers to keep this valuable program going,” said Monahan.

MOW began almost 50 years ago operated by volunteers who prepared meals at Rainycrest. Currently, Riverside coordinates the intake, payment, delivery, and meal preparation for over 50 clients registered to receive meals.

Elisa Nguyen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort Frances Times