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‘It’s more than just a visit:’ Community Action Alger-Marquette seeks more Meals on Wheels drivers

Program serves hundreds of seniors across Marquette, Alger Counties per day
Published: Dec. 21, 2021 at 11:54 PM EST
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - For many seniors, getting meals delivered through a community service program is about more than the food in the box.

Community Action Alger-Marquette’s Meals on Wheels program showed TV6 everything behind the scenes that goes into putting a meal in the hands of a senior.

One of the drivers at Community Action Alger-Marquette, Larry Marta, said, “You know it’s just the best job I ever had. By far.”

For Marta, driving around in a van, coolers in the backseat, and knocking on doors is a regular part of the job.

“Ever since I’ve been delivering for 12 years, we’ve always been looking for drivers,” Marta said.

Marta said he holds onto his 12 years at CAAM fondly, walking up sidewalks, milk and meals in hand, all for Meals on Wheels.

“We deliver five days a week,” Marta said. “I deliver three only and then I have somebody that does two other days on the same route so that’s kind of nice.”

Marta said the drive is just a sundae cherry.

“It’s just talking with people and seeing how their weekend was or their day is,” Marta said.

Marta and the other dozen drivers start from the Lone Creek Kitchen first thing in the morning before beginning their routes, usually ranging from about 25 to 30 stops.

“You get to the kitchen and you load up,” Marta said. “You see how many customers that you have for the day.”

It starts there with one chef.

When they have a handful of part-time employees working, the chef is preparing dozens, sometimes hundreds of meals to make that all happen.

So those working at CAAM, including Marta, say because of that, they need all of the drivers they can get.

“They are superheroes,” said Lori Stephens-Brown, CAAM’s Community Nutrition Services Director. “Especially through the pandemic, everybody just buckled down and did it.”

From the eyes of Community Action Alger-Marquette and Stephens-Brown, it’s a herculean effort sliced and sealed together every year.

“On any given day, we are delivering anywhere from 275 to 300 to seniors between the two counties,” Stephens-Brown said. “It’s been rough. We’ve been so short-staffed that they really are superheroes.”

Superheroes with milk instead of a cape, bringing warmth to seniors from the living room to living room.

Joe Drobny is one of these seniors. He greeted Marta with a tour of his life’s work. That included several photos of restored Model A’s, lifelike drawings on the walls, and the Marquette City emblem, which Drobny originally sketched.

“Larry’s been taking care of me for years,” Drobny said. “Otherwise, some days would go by and I wouldn’t see anyone. Anything else, Larry?”

“Oh, no, except I’m the greatest guy in the world,” Marta replied.

“Oh, yeah, he’s the greatest guy in the world,” Drobny said, laughing. “I can’t get out now to shop or anything. I can’t drive anymore. Ol’ Larry, he stops right in the morning and sees that I’m up and about and bringing my warm meal for me. It’s wonderful.”

“It helps people transition from the life they are used to, to what’s ahead for them and, hopefully, as a driver, I can help them through that,” Marta said. “You get to know them well. On my route, I make sure I know when their birthdays are. I pick them up a piece of cake from Super One and Walmart and a card, of course. You got to have a goofy card for them.”

Then, in response to being asked if someone would want him as their delivery driver, Marta laughed and said, “Well, if you like carrot cake, you would.”

And you can bet, Marta keeps that carrot cake in those coolers in his van.

As for CAAM, the program is looking for two to four more drivers like Marta, who want to make a difference between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. on weekdays.

One doorbell at a time.

“It’s more than just a meal, you know?” Drobny says. “It’s the visit that counts.”

When asked if he would do the 12 years all over again…

“I’d do them in a minute,” Marta said. “I always tell people that I’m doing this until I need them.”

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