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Most have finished raising their families and retired from careers. Yet at this point in their lives, when it could be expected to have others do for them, they continue to serve.

Wednesday night, Meals on Wheels of Buffalo & Erie County honored 40 volunteers who, collectively, have donated 850 years of service. A reception was held at the Olmsted Center for the Visually Impaired to recognize volunteers of 30, 25 and 20 years.

A private, nonprofit organization that provides nutritious meals to the elderly and infirm, Meals on Wheels this year faces an $80,000 reduction in funding from Erie County. And meal prices charged by the vendor have been creeping during the last several months, adding another $85,000 in expenses.

Acknowledging ongoing financial challenges, the organization's leaders say their success isn't about the money.

"We are a successful organization because of the 2,400 volunteers we have working for Meals on Wheels," said Christopher C. Hoover, chairman of the agency's board of directors. He described them as "people who believe wholeheartedly in giving back to their community."

Volunteers deliver two meals five days a week at noontime -- a hot lunch and a cold dinner -- to recipients' homes. Those who can afford it are asked to contribute the $6 a day it costs to buy the meals from a local vendor.

"We are really being challenged," Benjamin A. Gair III, executive director of the Meals on Wheels Foundation of Western New York, said in a telephone interview earlier Wednesday.

"That's why our volunteers are so important to the program. They are the hands and the heart of Meals on Wheels," he said. "The visits by the volunteers are just as important."

Evelyn Domnissey of West Seneca, who was honored Wednesday for 30 years of service, said that point was emphasized to her when she started volunteering. Someone told her: "More important than the food is the time you spend talking to the clients."

Domnissey said she got involved after reading about the program in a bulletin her husband brought home from church.

"I met a lot of people over the years. I really enjoy it," said Domnissey, 78.

Friday is her day to serve and she said she avoids making other plans. "I don't take off unless I'm sick," she said. "It's a commitment."

Following the death of her husband and, more recently, a son, Domnissey said volunteering helps keep her mind busy.

"I hope I can do it many more years . . . because it's a worthwhile thing," she said.


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