Time to Chat: La Jolla Meals On Wheels rolls out new visitors program


By Ashley Mackin

La Jolla Meals On Wheels (LJMOW) is forming a sister program, Friendly Visitors, and needs volunteers to visit home-bound people for an hour or two, once a week. The La Jolla program is so in its infancy that a director has yet to be appointed, but serious candidates are being interviewed this week.

To get the program going, Diane Ryason, LJMOW board secretary, said they are actively seeking volunteers. “We will be doing mailings and speaking to the Rotary, Soroptimists (and) professional organizations because I think we will get quite a few volunteers from those organizations” — although anyone can sign up to volunteer.

LJMOW Director Ron Jones said the Friendly Visitors will call on anybody (of any age) “who cannot get out and be social.” Since LJMOW works with Scripps Memorial Hospital, Jones said a client could be someone who recently had leg surgery.

Jones explained that LJMOW, which predates the San Diego Meals On Wheels program by 23 years, each day serves one hot meal and one cold meal that can be reheated. The promise of the hot meal is the impetus for the Friendly Visitors.

“We are limited as far as time; we have to get our meals delivered while they are still hot, so we can’t stick around to talk, even though we are, often times, the only person these people see all day,” Jones said. “(The clients) want to chat, hence the institution of Friendly Visitors.”

Ryason brought the idea of Friendly Visitors to the board after seeing how well it worked in Alameda, Calif.

She said La Jolla is modeling its Friendly Visitors after the Bay-area program. The step-by-step process for pairing volunteers and clients starts with clients being interviewed at their home or care center where their needs are assessed and interests noted. From there, volunteers are interviewed, trained and given a complete background check. The program director then matches the client with the most compatible volunteer.

The volunteers are given a handbook with guidelines for handling different situations, like working with those who are hard of hearing, blind, or with physical disabilities.

To help the volunteers, Ryason said the clients are initially interviewed so if there are health issues, they will be identified prior to the visits, “there is going to be as much knowledge up front as we can possibly provide.”

In a volunteer, Ryason said they are simply looking for someone with time and interest in visiting shut-ins. She said she hopes for someone with good communication skills, tolerance of other cultures, and an ability to maintain client confidentiality.

One such potential volunteer is Vicky Hillman, who delivers meals with her partner Jody O’Donnell. She said while on a drop-off to the home of Doris and Paul Sutton that LJMOW is a hands-on way to help. “I like seeing people and not sitting behind a desk or trying to raise money, but actually seeing everybody. You become attached to them and it’s a wonderful way to give back to your community,” she said.

Client Doris Sutton, who recently wrote a book, said LJMOW has been “a huge benefit to me and my family.”

Using Doris Sutton as an example, Hillman said there is a need for a program like Friendly Visitors. “We probably could have sat there for half an hour, (because) she would have told us about her book.”

Some of the simple services Hillman said a Friendly Visitors volunteer could do with a client include listening to their stories or reading to them. “There’s so many things you can do.”

Asked whether they would sign up with Friendly Visitors once it’s up and running, both Hillman and O’Donnell said without hesitation, “Yes.”

Want to know more?

• Both clients and interested volunteers may contact Friendly Visitors through La Jolla Meals On Wheels at (858) 452-0391