CENTRAL TEXAS - Meals on Wheels is known for the food they deliver to the front door of thousands, but now they’re also delivering a lesson in technology.
A Meals on Wheels volunteer delivers lunch to John Faulkner five days a week.
"Thank you, sir,” Faulkner said to his delivery driver.
But when the volunteers leave, it can get lonely. So Meals on Wheels launched a program that they hope will help.
"Recently, about a month ago, I had this call, what do I know about computers,” said Faulkner. “I said I think I can spell computer, that's about as far as I can go."
As part of a pilot program, they've given 25 seniors a Chrome notebook laptop computer.
"As you can see, I don't know a lot about computers, but it's a nice one,” said Faulkner. "This little button, there I am."
A volunteer teacher comes by once a week.
"How many lessons all depends on where the client is starting as far as their computer know-how is concerned,” said Thad Rosenfeld with Meals on Wheels Central Texas.
They teach the clients everything from how to turn on the computer, to how to sign up for social media.
"She taught me how to use Facebook," Faulkner said. "You can look up hundreds of recipes on this thing, so I do better cooking.”
But perhaps the most important thing they learn is how to use apps such as Facetime or Skype, which allow them to talk to their loved ones.
"I haven't had much communication with my kids in a long time,” Faulkner said. "The main thing, it keeps me in communication with some people I love."
Now, Faulkner is able to talk to his four children or 11 grandkids almost every day, with some even overseas.
"It makes me feel part of life, it makes me feel part of my family," Faulkner said. "It's a blessing, it's like a whole other world has been opened up to me."
He talked to one of his daughters just the other day.
“'Just said, hope you're having a good day daddy, well I'm going to bed.' That was it, that was the whole deal, but it sure made me go to bed with a smile on my face," Faulkner said.
Rosenfeld said that feeling is invaluable.
"To be able to Skype with their kids, with their grandkids, it just brings them so much joy and all of a sudden they don't feel quite as isolated,” Rosenfeld said.
He said many times, those volunteers are the only people the clients see all day.
"So many of the people we serve live alone, and the only people they may see all day is our great volunteer arriving with our hot nutritious meal, for a quick visit," said Rosenfeld.
He said the program is possible through a partnership with Google Fiber and the City of Austin.
"At the end of it, what we want is these folks to be able to turn on their computer, log on and explore the world," Rosenfeld said.
He said it’s all about serving both the body and minds of their clients.
"At Meals on Wheels Central Texas we take a holistic approach to keeping our clients living independently, and out of assisted living. It also saves tax payers money in the process, but our signature program is our meals," Rosenfeld said. "This just kind of opens up the world and it lets them know that they haven't been forgotten by the rest of society."
It's a world they are still very much a part of.
"It's amazing the people that I've talked to -- an old girlfriend that I haven't even seen in 50 years,” Faulkner said.
"The meals are important, but if they are depressed, if they feel isolated, meals in and of themselves are not going to do it,” Rosenfeld said.
"I think that's almost as important as the food. I'll go on a diet to have the people I love around me,” Faulkner said. "I think it’s important to your mental wellbeing -- it gives you an opportunity to not be isolated."
And now Faulkner can have both. For that, he wants to thank Meals on Wheels.
The City of Austin has renewed the program, allowing Meals on Wheels to give out 25 more laptop computers next fiscal year.
"So we'll be able to just keep this going,” Rosenfeld said.
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