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UT Austin provost lends helping hand through Meals on Wheels

Each day, at least 160 volunteers across Austin line up at the Meals on Wheels and More office on Rosewood Avenue to collect meals to deliver to 1,600 homebound people in the area. For the recipients, many of whom are elderly and disabled, the knock on the door at noon is a welcome relief — a signal that they will be eating at least one nutritious meal that day.

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AUSTIN, Texas—Each day, at least 160 volunteers across Austin line up at the Meals on Wheels and More office on Rosewood Avenue to collect meals to deliver to 1,600 homebound people in the area. For the recipients, many of whom are elderly and disabled, the knock on the door at noon is a welcome relief — a signal that they will be eating at least one nutritious meal that day.

Dr. Sheldon Ekland-Olson, executive vice president and provost at The University of Texas at Austin, is among the volunteers. In fact, he has had his own “route” for the past six years. Puttering in his silver Volkswagen bug, Ekland-Olson winds down Mildred, Pedernales and Canterbury streets in East Austin passing the time of day with clients as he brings them lunch.

Now, he hardly has to glance at his tip sheet provided by Meals on Wheels outlining special notations like “Hard of Hearing, Please Knock Loudly” or “Family Member May Receive Meals.” The clients on his route change periodically, but one man has been on Ekland-Olson’s route for the past four years. Another resident on his current route is a 103-year-old woman who lives on Pedernales Street.

Meals on Wheels and More is one of the many approved programs designated to receive funds through the State Employee Charitable Campaign. UT’s own Hearts of Texas version is being held through Nov. 12. In addition to delivering meals, the organization serves hundreds of people through its other four programs: Groceries to Go, Care Calls, Medi Wheels and Handy Wheels, programs providing grocery shopping, transportation to medical appointments and minor home repair work.

“I consider volunteering a way to refresh and get away from the normal demands of the regular routine,” Ekland-Olson said. “It’s a time out — a totally different thing to do and, in addition to being very gratifying, it helps you keep things in perspective.

“Besides, my parents always told me to try to make the world a better place than when you found it. . . .I think of volunteering in terms of spending your time on things that make a difference — a difference in terms of the quality of life we lead, the opportunities that can be shaped and how I can contribute.”

Ekland-Olson said he knows from a family experience that Meals on Wheels makes a difference. “It is time well spent,” he said, explaining that an elderly aunt in California has been helped for several years by the program.

Another reason the provost enjoys being a Meals on Wheels-er is because they are “incredibly well-organized. You walk into the Meals on Wheels kitchen, they are ready, they have your route, they hand you your food, you hop back into your car and all the persons you deliver to are within five or six blocks. It’s great.”

Ekland-Olson finishes his route in 45 minutes, says his final “Have a Good One” to the last resident, and heads back to UT to continue his busy schedule as executive vice president and provost at the largest university in the country.