In his red Jeep, Dreyvon Saunders passes the slow traffic of the late mornings. The first stop of the day is an apartment complex in west Glendale. He grabs a plastic bag from his trunk and heads toward the first client.
Already expecting him and the chimichanga meals, a voice from the first-floor apartment instructs Saunders to come in after he knocks on the door. Saunders asks the client about their weekend and how they were feeling as he hands him the bag of meals and a couple of bottles of orange juice.
"When they see me, it's the same person coming there each time," Saunders told The Arizona Republic. "So I get familiar, and they get comfortable. You kind of build a relationship."
Saunders is one of 15 staff drivers at YWCA Metropolitan Phoenix who deliver food to elderly people and people with disabilities.
YWCA's senior program provides assistance to people facing food insecurities. According to the nonprofit, food insecurities in Glendale and El Mirage have dramatically risen since the pandemic.
The nonprofit received a grant from The Arizona Republic's Season for Sharing campaign, which supports programs for at-risk children and families, helps teachers and students, and provides services for older adults.
HOW TO DONATE: Make a gift to Season for Sharing here
$25,000 to YWCA for its senior programs.
$18,000 to Duet: Partners in Health and Aging for free-of-charge grocery shopping, transport and other services for homebound seniors and disabled adults.
$15,000 to Aster Aging Inc. for nutritious Meals on Wheels with daily wellness checks.
$10,000 to Area Agency on Aging for trips for older adults in need.
$7,500 to Neighbors Who Care to help homebound and disabled older adults stay in their homes for as long as feasibly possible.
Help for those on fixed incomes
The Phoenix metro area is facing a plight of senior food insecurity. According to a Feeding America report released in August, 7.5% of older adults in the Valley are experiencing food insecurity.
"We need to allow seniors not only to age in place, but to age with dignity," said YWCA advancement director Genevieve Villegas. "A lot of times when they're on fixed incomes, our seniors are having to decide if they're going to pay their electric bill or are they going to have a meal that evening. We want to eliminate that decision for them."
YWCA's program aims to help older adults live outside of assisted living facilities or nursing homes. The goal is to help them save money on food so they can afford housing and utilities, among other costs.
Villegas said the food they provide is nutritious and follows dietary restrictions as needed.
Currently, 745 clients are registered for the food distribution and delivery program. According to YWCA, 85% of them belong to low-income households.
Before the pandemic, the program served 92,000 meals to 1,110 older adults and people with disabilities each year.
Last year, the number of registered clients declined. However, the need only increased. The program served 122,000 meals in 2020, according to YWCA.
"We have less people, but we've been pushing out more meals, which is just crazy," Villegas said. "We don't see that going away even when we get back to normal."
'They're not going to ask for additional help'
Clients needing help first sign up with the Area Agency on Aging, where they are assigned a case manager who assesses their needs and refers them to YWCA as clients.
Two-thirds of YWCA's clients are 65 or older. Apart from hunger, many of them also face loneliness, Villegas said.
"They have a lot of pride there," she said. "They're not going to ask for additional help. They just are so grateful for the meals that we're providing. It's up to our drivers who are very in tune with the surroundings, and they can see issues."
Saunders, whose usual daily route consists of 20 stops, has moved furniture, sorted dishes and tended front yards for different clients.
"For a lot of them, this is all the time you get to see (someone) face to face," Saunders said. "I kind of like that interaction and seeing how they're doing, what they're doing in their lives."
He previously worked as a kitchen cook and prepared some of the meals for YWCA's congregate service. The congregate service, held in its offices where anyone could come in to grab a meal, is currently suspended due to the pandemic.
According to YWCA, the senior programs require a $1.1 million budget to run each year.
YWCA also sponsors about 12,000 rides and conducts 1,600 activities focused on seniors and people with disabilities, each year.
"It is very important and helpful that we receive that funding every year for those seniors," Villegas said.
YWCA plans to reopen its in-person services in February.
In the meantime, Villages said, clients are treated to warm food and smiling faces directly at their homes.
How to Donate to Season for Sharing
With the help of Republic readers, Season for Sharing has raised and given away more than $70 million to Arizona nonprofits during the last 28 years. Help us continue helping our neighbors in need.
5 ways to give
Fill out the secure, online form at sharing.azcentral.com.
Text “SHARING” to 91-999 and click on the link in the text message.
Go online at facebook.com/seasonforsharing and look for the “DONATE HERE” post.
Clip the coupon on Page 4A of The Arizona Republic, fill it out and mail it to P.O. Box 29250, Phoenix AZ 85038-9250.
Scan the QR code with your smartphone camera, click on the link to donate.
Where does the money go?
When you give to Season for Sharing, you're helping nonprofits that support education, feed the hungry and help struggling families. The Republic pays all administrative costs, so 100% of donations go back to the community.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Season for Sharing helps fund programs for elderly in Arizona