Active Generations volunteers drop off food, lift spirits

Sanford Health and Society encourage employees to give time to community groups

An Active Generations volunteer in a face mask reaches into a soft-sided cooler in an industrial kitchen. Carts full of bagged food are nearby.

Every weekday at Active Generations in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, hundreds of meals are dished up by volunteers for people in need.

“Lots of activity. Meals on Wheels being packed,” Nancy Wehrkamp, director of programming at Active Generations, says.

The food is going to older adults in five nearby counties who struggle to get out of the house.

“Pack the hot, pack the cold and get them out the door to the folks that we serve that want that nutritious meal,” Nancy says.

20,000 meals leave the building each month, delivered to homes by an army of volunteers navigating 32 different routes.

“Meals on Wheels is for the elderly. Anyone 60 and over is eligible. It doesn’t matter how much you make, how much you have in the bank. We’re here to feed South Dakota,” Rebecca Behnke, nutrition and WOW director at Active Generations, says. “People think it’s just delivering meals but really it changes your heart.”

Support from the Society and Sanford Health

Not only does he serve, but Bill Gran with the Good Samaritan Society also coordinates volunteers for Meals on Wheels.

“When I get done delivering the meals, I feel so good. It’s for them but I feel so uplifted. Jesus says those who are merciful, receive mercy. That’s what happens each time I deliver,” says Bill, Society spiritual ministry senior consultant and pastor.

He’s been doing it for nearly 20 years.

“It fits with our mission of sharing God’s love through the work of health, healing and comfort,” Bill says.

Nancy says the Society’s commitment is “phenomenal. They really have done a nice job of making sure we kept running.”

Sanford Health is also providing support for Meals on Wheels and other programs offered at Active Generations.

“Sanford has helped in a variety of different ways — financially but then also with volunteers, and we’re always looking for more,” Nancy says.

‘Corporate support’ for volunteering

Now, with Sanford Health’s new paid volunteer time off, the integrated health system’s employees have even more incentive to get out in their communities and do good.

“I would encourage everybody to get involved in their community,” Randy Bury, Society president and CEO, says. “I think we all have that responsibility. To see that corporate support for it in a real way and encourage it and provide some paid time off for it, I think it says a lot about Good Samaritan and Sanford.”

Randy says the Meals on Wheels program is special to his family.

“My parents in Webster, South Dakota, received Meals on Wheels. It really allowed them to stay in their house longer than they ever would have been able to without that,” Randy says.

‘Appreciate so much’

Sioux Falls resident Lois Pendegraft recently retired and unfortunately, had a bad break.

“I fell on that cement out there and fractured my shoulder,” Lois says pointing to her porch.

During recovery, Lois is needing support.

“It’s wonderful. Trying to go to the grocery store, which I will eventually, but I really appreciate so much this Meals on Wheels,” Lois says.

Demand for the program continues to rise.

“It’s growing like gangbusters. During the COVID time and now, we’ve realized that people are nutritionally challenged and we need to make sure we can help assist that. It’s a huge need,” Nancy says.

Not only the food but the friendships and social interactions that come with it. Loneliness can also have a negative effect on someone’s health.

“These individuals that we work with that we deliver a meal to are shut-ins. So they can’t get out. We are usually the only person many of them see every day. So they look for us Monday-Friday,” Rebecca says.

Volunteers are the ‘front line’

Rebecca grateful for the people who volunteer and hopes others will sign up.

“You are our front line and I just want to thank you for helping and giving your time. It means more to myself and the clients you serve than anyone will ever know,” Rebecca says.

Dropping off comfort and lifting others up at the same time.

“It is so essential that we have a strong relationship with the community,” Bill says.

Whether it’s through volunteering at Active Generations or another nonprofit.

“Whether it’s the food pantry or any other nonprofit in the community, thanks to all of our staff for participating,” Randy says.

If you’re interested in volunteering for Active Generations, visit activegenerations.org or call (605) 333-6722. Interested in volunteering for Meals on Wheels? Visit Meals on Wheels or call (605) 333-3305.

Sanford Health and Society employees working at National Campus can contact Bill Gran.

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