Wilder Meals on Wheels volunteer in mask

High school student Aine puts new driver’s license to work volunteering for Meals on Wheels

Aine, a high school senior in Saint Paul, knew she wanted to start volunteering as soon as she got her got her driver’s license at age 17 1/2. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Aine put her newly minted license to work delivering Meals on Wheels at Wilder.

Once every week, Aine picks up brown paper bags with frozen meals at the Wilder Community Center for Aging and delivers them to Saint Paul residents who are older, have difficulty cooking and preparing meals, or are home due to health conditions, disabilities or limited mobility. Volunteers like Aine have been have been a lifeline for Meals on Wheels recipients, especially during a pandemic that has kept many community members in their homes to stay safe.

Aine chose Meals on Wheels in part because her grandparents receive Bento boxes each week from the Japan America Society of Minnesota. “I’ve seen how much getting them means to grandparents who are in their 90’s,” Aine says. In addition, Aine’s mom is a family physician who has referred patients to Wilder. “When I went to Wilder’s website and saw that Meals on Wheels delivery volunteers were needed, I knew that is what I wanted to do.”

Aine says volunteering helps her gain confidence

At first, Aine was nervous about delivering meals on her own, but with support from Wilder staff, she began to feel more confident in her abilities. “After I delivered a few times, it made me feel more independent and more confident and that I could be given a task and accomplish it and I can do a good job with it,” Aine says. “I was being given the same responsibility that adults were given, and that was a new experience for me.”

Aine says she has gained communication skills and experience interacting with people outside her bubble, and she has also learned she has passions other than getting good grades and school activities. In fact, Aine spoke so positively about her experience with Wilder Meals on Wheels that she recruited friends to volunteer with her.

“I’ve had such a positive experience with the staff and clients, and I feel I have gained way more than I have contributed,” Aine says. “If other high school kids were interested in volunteering I would recommend Wilder’s Meals on Wheels program because it is a super supportive environment.”

Volunteering with COVID-19 safety protocols eased Aine's fears

Volunteer opportunities in many organizations shifted dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the interest of safety, some in-person opportunities were paused, and many volunteers who are at risk of COVID-19 complications opted to stay home. Aine shared similar concerns when she began volunteering. She’s close to her grandparents, who were also concerned about her volunteer work. “What made me feel better is that Wilder took it seriously, and there were a number of protocols in place that made me feel like everyone was being as safe as possible, which eased my fears,” she says.

Aine recommends asking about COVID-19 protocols when looking for a place to volunteer. “It is important that the organization takes it seriously,” she says.

I’ve had such a positive experience with the staff and clients, and I feel I have gained way more than I have contributed.

Aine, Wilder Volunteer, Meals on Wheels