Every Monday morning like clockwork, Meals on Wheels People volunteer Bill Gerkin arrives at the Tigard Senior Center to pick up a clipboard with his delivery information and load the back of his SUV with food for his route.
On Dec. 20, he also had some small decorated Christmas trees made by Kaiser Permanente employees to hand out and bring some holiday cheer to the MOWP recipients.
Gerkin just turned 90, making him older that most of the clients on his route, but since he has been a MOWP driver for 30 years, he isn’t about to stop now. Thirty years ago, there was a big snow storm in the metro area, and Gerkin, who had recently retired, heard a radio announcement that extra MOWP drivers were needed.
“Many seniors don’t drive in the snow,” Gerkin said. “I grew up in Missouri and Kansas and lived in Illinois, so I have always known how to drive in the snow. I’ve been driving for MOWP ever since.”
Theresa Thornton is the Tigard Senior Center’s MOWP home delivery manager, coordinating meal deliveries Monday through Thursday to 180 to 190 people along 24 routes in Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood.
“I told Theresa I would give up volunteering the first week in December this year, but I changed my mind,” said Gerkin, who currently has seven stops on his route in the area of Greenburg Road off 99W. “The clients don’t want me to quit. These clients feel like extended family.”
Gerkin, who is now working with his fourth Senior Center manager, knows all the rules by heart. For example, clients are told to be home between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to receive their meals. “We can’t leave food off without contact with the person in the home,” Gerkin said.
“On one occasion I requested a welfare check. I did find one man deceased in his easy chair. The TV was blaring, and I went in and put the food on the counter in the kitchen like I always did. Then I looked at him, couldn’t find a pulse, and he felt cold.”
He called the senior center director, who called the police and sent out another driver to finish Gerkin’s route to he could stay and talk to the police.
One stop on Gerkin’s Dec. 20 route was Donald Daniel, who has been one of Gerkin’s clients for more than a year. Daniel said he appreciates the service because “I like the nourishment, the good food, and I get my veggies on time.”
Gerkin has rarely missed a day in 30 years, “other than when I had my knee replacements,” he said. “The deliveries take about an hour plus the time spent at the Senior Center.”
Thornton explained, “Volunteers are the heart and soul of our company. They are compassionate and wonderful gatekeepers to our senior population. We couldn’t do what we do without them.”
She added, “Clients receive frozen meals and a bag with fruit, veggies, dessert and milk every week. They receive bread every other week. All our meals are on a donation basis. We are a 501(C)3 non-profit. Most of our clients are 60 years and older… ”
The program also provides food to other groups, with meals medically tailored to meet the various needs.
MOWP’s Central Kitchen in Multnomah Village makes and packages all the food that is distributed every morning to the various centers from where the routes originate. Volunteers interested in becoming a MOWP driver must go through a background check and online training.
Gerkin and his wife lived in Summerfield for more than 35 years before recently moving into King City Senior Village, and he has pretty much devoted his retirement to volunteering. Besides MOWP, he also volunteers twice a month at Just Compassion in Tigard that provides services for homeless people, including a day center, overnight shelter, meals, showers, a mailing address, clothing, supplies and counseling.
Gerkin joined the King City Lions Club in 1997, participating in many of its programs that support the community, including providing help with sight and hearing issues, and raising money for local food banks and the Honor Flight Network that sends veterans on trips to Washington, D.C.
In addition, he volunteers at Bethlehem House of Bread, which provides free food to more than 500 families a month, a free store stocked with clothing and household essentials, and a community garden where families can grow fresh produce.
Gerkin also worked with United Way on funding disbursements, and for 10 years he volunteered with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office issuing tickets to people with vehicles parked illegally in handicapped spaces.
Furthermore, Gerkin has volunteered at American Red Cross blood drives and has personally donated 30 gallons of whole blood and platelets.
“I enjoy it all,” Gerkin said.