Meals on Wheels volunteer Jack Corey, 80, remembers a time, not long ago, when drivers were dispatched with a pen and a route on paper.
“We use a tablet now,” Corey said. “I’d like to throw it into a creek.”
In nearly 20 years, he’s seen the program change technologically and endure a nationwide shutdown, but not much has differed physically in his route delivering food through Gulfport.
18 Years on the Road
Meals on Wheels delivers through Neighborly Care Network, a senior service provider. The Gulfport Senior Center is the program’s home base in Gulfport – one location of 10 in Pinellas.
A St. Petersburg native, Corey designed sailboats as an engineer before retiring. After, he soon realized he needed to find a purpose for his newfound time.
He showed up at the Gulfport Senior Center in reply to a volunteer ad for Meals On Wheels program in 2003.
“Jack has quite a legacy here,” said Neighborly Community Engagement Manager Hilary Douglass. “He’s a special man, and more importantly, the seniors he’s helped have felt that.”
Since his first orientation, Corey has delivered hot and chilled packaged meals to disabled or elderly residents’ doorsteps at the most five days a week, but he’s since slowed down to two.
“I’ll do it until my body doesn’t allow me anymore,” Corey said, sipping coffee out of a green mug at Stella’s in Gulfport on a recent morning. “A lot of these people are housebound, bedridden, people die and I always have the same route.”
Corey, a lover of routine, visits Stella’s nearly every day of his route for a cup of coffee.
But his experiences behind the wheel haven’t always been conventional.
Three years ago, someone stole Corey’s Prius while the car was parked and running during a Meals on Wheels stop.
“I had the keys in my pocket and I heard it beeping down the road,” Corey said. “The cops eventually recovered it in an alley and there was no damage to the car, but whoever stole it took a brand new cup of McDonald’s coffee from the cupholder.”
Corey has also plugged leaks and made repairs to many of his client’s homes – off of his Meals on Wheels hours.
“I was used to fixing things,” Corey said. “I do enjoy it. I mainly enjoy the people and getting to know them.”
Now adults, his grandchildren sat in the passenger seat as young children while on volunteer rides. Corey’s also dodged rattlesnakes and, once, brought a housebound client steak, lobster and wine on Christmas.
“I think I get more out of it than them sometimes,” Corey said.
A Need for Time
Jack is one of 73 active Gulfport volunteers with Meals on Wheels; according to Douglass, he’s in good company.
“I’ve had the chance to shadow volunteers, and I can say that in my 31 years of volunteer services, Neighborly is special in that its volunteers really care, and stick around longer than not,” Douglass said.
Still, long-term volunteers can be hard to come by, with snowbird schedules and dwindling hours logged, Meals on Wheels always needs committed drivers.
“You don’t need to do it more than a few hours a day, a few hours a week even,” Corey said.
The program relies solely on volunteers to provide free or low-cost food to those in need.
Interested in volunteering? More at neighborly.org/volunteer-opportunities.