Will DoorDash or Uber Eats take over Meals on Wheels Deliveries?

Will DoorDash or Uber Eats take over Meals on Wheels Deliveries?

Volunteer Harold Smith delivers a meal in Tyler

Meals on Wheels East Texas currently operates in six counties utilizing the transport power of over 50 paid drivers and 52 vehicles owned by the organization. These drivers haul bulk meals from the Tyler kitchen to 21 sites in Henderson, Gregg, Smith, Upshur, Van Zandt, and Wood Counties; daily, these vehicles cover an over 2600-mile radius in East Texas. Each site recruits local volunteers to deliver in each city Meals on Wheels serves, but paid drivers take care of the deep, rural areas of East Texas that are undesirable or simply too far out in the country to ask volunteers to cover using their personal vehicles and fuel.  

There are very few Meals on Wheels organizations in the United States that function in this type of model. Due to the large geographical area Meals on Wheels East Texas serves and the rural nature of many of these counties, a fleet of vehicles and a crew of employed drivers is necessary. Other Meals on Wheels organizations may serve the same number of clients but in a more condensed, metropolitan area where volunteer teams can manage the delivery routes. 

Tarrant County Meals on Wheels, for example, serves a larger client base than Meals on Wheels East Texas, but Tarrant County is only 901 square miles; the six counties served here in East Texas total over 4,000 square miles. Smith County alone is 950 square miles, about the size of Delaware. 

These paid drivers and vehicles utilized by Meals on Wheels East Texas are integral to the organization’s ability to continue serving in this vast area, even if it means it must focus on increased fundraising and grant-application activities to maintain the large fleet of vehicles year after year.  

Currently, the cumulative mileage in the fleet of 52 vehicles is nearing 4 million.  

Recently, Meals on Wheels East Texas launched a Fleet Fundraiser, kicking off the endeavor with East Texas Giving Day, to raise money to replace seven of the most troublesome, high-mileage vehicles in operation right now. East Texas Giving Day offered a major step forward with total giving reaching a 120% increase over last year at $84,0000, allowing the organization to easily replace two of the seven vehicles and remarkably close to replacing a third if each one costs around $30,000.  Inflation has not been kind as the price of quality, used vehicles remains high. 

This 2003 Toyota Tundra needs to be replaced.

Would it serve the financial bottom line to outsource meal deliveries to businesses like DoorDash, UberEats, or Instacart? Probably. But the bottom line is not all that matters in the ministry Meals on Wheels East Texas provides. 

I was asked at a meeting last year if we would ever consider applying for a grant that would allow DoorDash to deliver meals for us. The answer is no. Meals on Wheels East Texas will not outsource daily meal deliveries to third-party, delivery service-based businesses, even if it would save money. We provide so much more than a meal.

– Executive Director Tiffany Damskov

The organization’s mission statement, adopted just last year, reads:

Meals on Wheels East Texas empowers older and disabled adults to live independently in their own homes by providing nutritious home-delivered meals, safety checks, socialization, and community connection, which result in an enhanced quality of life and purpose as everyday people join us in ministry. 

While a third-party delivery service would certainly be able to take meals from point A to point B with efficiency in time and money, the organization is committed to the “more than a meal” elements of its mission – the safety checks, socialization, and community connection only a human who cares can deliver each day. 

Many of our volunteers deliver meals because they have a parent, grandparent, church member, or neighbor who received Meals on Wheels services and they know the impact it makes on their quality of life, even their health,” Damskov shares. She continues, “They do this because they care. They develop relationships with their clients that go beyond the meal; many volunteers help drive them to doctor appointments, the grocery store, or simply go and visit outside of the delivery times; our paid drivers let us know when additional service referrals may be needed. 

Executive Director Tiffany Damskov
Volunteer Donna Wright delivers a meal in Quitman

Melodye Pirtle, the Site Manager in Chandler, TX, recently shared about two of her local volunteers, Wanda and Patrick Taylor, who have volunteered for seven years. Melodye says, “They are dependable, happy to serve, and love the clients. Wanda takes her time to talk and know the client’s needs; she even drives them to doctor appointments, the beauty shop, or the grocery store even on the days she isn’t volunteering with us.”  Melodye continues, “Wanda will even help clients get the pets to the vet!”. 

Chandler Site Manager Melodye Pirtle with Volunteers
Wanda and Patrick Taylor

This is the “more than a meal” Damskov referred to.  

Lawrence Jones, employed as a driver for Meals on Wheels East Texas for 14 years, has had to call 911 for clients with acute health issues. Back in 2019, Jones had an opportunity to save a life. He said, “I opened the door to deliver the meal and my client didn’t look well; he started to shudder and fell over. I had to get the neighbor who had a phone in his hand to call 911. The man was having a seizure and we were able to get him the help he needed.”  (Hear more about Lawrence’s experience as a driver here.)

Our drivers are a consistent presence every single day. Whereas our volunteers often change day to day or week to week, the drivers deliver the same route every single day. They are fundamental to our mission.” Autum continues, “Just this week one of our clients called in to let us know she is in the hospital and does not need meals again until she ‘s home. She said of her driver, “Tell Leon I love him, and I sure hope he didn’t make a wasted trip out to my house today.” 

Autum McClenny, Director of Logistics

The drivers, according to Autum, get so close to their clients that when a client no longer qualifies for services for some reason, the driver will be concerned. “They will often take the meal they are given for personal consumption each day to the client, so they do not miss out,” Autum revealed. 

Driver Tony Wesley receives a thank-you card from his clients
“Thank you for being such a caring Meals on Wheels driver.”

A meal dropped off on the client’s doorstep by a delivery business simply cannot ever replace the safety check, the relationship our volunteers and drivers develop with our clients, or the sense of community connection this encounter provides each day. This is how we fulfill our mission to help them keep living independently in their own homes – connection and care.

Daily interaction with clients often alerts us to the need for additional help other organizations can provide such as the East Texas Food Bank, PATH, or Habitat for Humanity, to name a few. So, we need to keep our wheels turning on the roads of East Texas and continue to maintain our fleet of delivery vehicles for the next 50 years. 

Tiffany Damskov Executive Director

Speaking of 50 years, the organization celebrates its 50th Anniversary this October; a gala will be held at the new W.T. Brookshire Conference Center on October 7, 2023. 

If you would like to make a donation to the 2023 Fleet Fundraiser to help Meals on Wheels East Texas continue its vital work in our area, please visit their website at www.MealsOnWheelsETX.org or call the Tyler office at (903)593-7385.  

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