Edward and Joan Norton have their Thursday routine firmly established. First, they start the day by going to breakfast. Then, they head to the Senior Services of Wichita building to pick up the meals they deliver for the local Meals on Wheels program. They've volunteered together for four years.
"It's just a day out for us," Joan Norton said.
When the retired couple walk into the center at about 10 a.m. each Thursday, the Nortons pick up the sheets that list their delivery addresses.
They take two routes each week — one that has nine stops around central Wichita and one farther west to drop 13 meals off at Country Acres Senior Residence. The drive takes about an hour.
Trying to recruit new volunteers to deliver meals becomes more difficult with higher gas prices, said Laurel Alkire, executive director of Senior Services Inc., the not-for-profit agency that operates Meals on Wheels.
"We say, 'Come drive for us all over town when gas is almost $4 a gallon,' " she said. "It makes it really tough."
The volunteers they have are less willing to pick up multiple routes on one day.
Without enough volunteers, Senior Services employees must deliver the meals. They receive staff mileage for their trips so it costs more for Meals on Wheels.
Locally, the program delivers about 900 prepared meals Monday through Friday to homebound people 60 or older who cannot cook for themselves. Meals on Wheels needs about 50 to 65 volunteers each weekday to deliver the meals, said Liz Buggs, volunteer coordinator for Meals on Wheels. Senior Services offers $2 to its volunteers to offset some of the drivers' gas costs. Even though some volunteers like the Nortons put the money back into a donation box each day, more drivers are keeping the money, Alkire said.
"It used to be that most of them wouldn't take that," she said. "However, more and more are starting to."
Nationally, gas prices are also affecting Meals on Wheels programs across the country, according to data from the Meals on Wheels Association of America.