Monday (2009.06.01) was my first day delivering meals on my bicycle. Here’s my commuter/utility bike all rigged up and with the bike trailer attached on one of my deliveries.
I’ve been considering donating for awhile. Time or money? I didn’t just want to give money. Time I think is a little more important. I’d thought of some kind of mentoring for kids or working with troubled youth but was concerned about the commitment. Heck I don’t even have a dog cause I’m worried about that commitment.
My wife Heidi had mentioned this organization called Loaves & Fishes a few months ago. They provide hot meals to senior citizens. Their main program is called Meals-On-Wheels (wikipedia) where they deliver the food directly to the senior citizen living at home. There was a meal center just 2 miles from my house in Multnomah Village. I thought about it for awhile and put it on the back burner. Seems like there’s always something else competing for your free time.
Then about a month ago they announced a program called Meals-On-Two-Wheels where you could support the program by sponsoring a route or volunteer to deliver the meals by bike.
I’m fortunate enough to have a good job working from home with a very flexible schedule. I also feel pretty blessed to have a good life. So I emailed to find out more.
Being a programmer, I’m always curious about how stuff works.
I first pinged them by submitting a form through the website. Jody Grant, the Southwest location manager, then emailed me saying they were starting up their first route by bicycle, what day it was on, and that if I chose do do it, I would be doing it twice a month or every other Monday. Once that was out of the way then you had to fill out a form to sign up, including showing your drivers license and giving your social security number so they can run a criminal background check on you. There are websites which will give them this information immediately. In fact I watched Jody use the website.
So I showed up to meet her and see the location a week before my first real attempt. She then gave me the route and stops along the way via Google Maps. Pretty cool usage of technology. Each waypoint was marked with the name of the person I would be visiting as well as their address. Since I don’t seem to race anymore just pre-ride (haha), I thought I’ll take a spin and see how hard it is. Only 5 miles or so, part of it on a twisty hilly road with no bike lanes and the other half on the return leg was along busy road with a nice bike lane. I was concerned about how hard the hills would be with a trailer and some of the stops were along either a steep incline or a gravel road. How would the bike and trailer handle?
When I got back from my pre-ride, a guy was delivering the bike trailer so I got to check it out and talk to the guy a week before I actually had to use it. I would be the first person to do this, bike delivery, at the Southwest location. Other locations around Portland have been doing the bike delivery already. What makes Southwest unique, for those of you not from Portland reading this, is the vast number of hills and roads that are not straight or grid-like. Other parts of Portland (SE, NE, N) are very much like Milwaukee or Chicago and laid out in a grid pattern with flat roads. Not SW Portland.
I also got a chance to see how the bike would attach to the trailer. It’s modeled just like a vehicle. You have a trailer hitch that you attach to your bike. This is done by the back wheel. You mount the hitch via the skewer like so:
So just like the diagram above – here’s it being mounted on my bike:
Here’s what the hitch looks like mounted:
Then you just hook up the tow bar to the hitch. It has a strap you wrap around your frame in case the pin falls out (just like a normal car trailer uses a chain for that).
The day of my delivery I showed up and there were other folks showing up as well. First you sign and initial your name in a log book for the route you are going deliver. I’d say there were a dozen routes. Then you right your route name on a whiteboard in the kitchen area. This is order the kitchen will then fill the orders.
You get 1 cooler for hot food and 1 cooler for cold food. They put a hot water in an old plastic milk gallon and place it in the hot cooler to get it ready and warm for the hot food. The cold food cooler already has it’s cold food in it. So when you deliver the food, a lunch is the combination of 1 cold food and 1 hot food plus an option milk carton (1 pint).
So the cold food cooler looks like this (I took this shot at the end of my ride with 1 delivery left). Not the a cold food item is a plastic wrapped container with a fruit, bun, and some other kinds of fruit.
Here’s what the hot food cooler looked like:
Couple of veggies in there and some kind of pasta.
Some folks have special diet needs on top of all this. So in addition to giving them 2 food containers (1 hot/1 cold) you also need to give the right container. Some are marked for diabetic and some are marked for vegetarian and some might even be marked up special.
So how do you know who gets what?
Well the last piece of information you get is a 3 ring binder with your route name (Ashcreek in my case) that has a nice bill of materials for who gets what.
The trailer itself is built by Burley. They are located right here in Eugene, OR. In addition to all the child/pet carriers I’m sure you’ve seen around. They now make a flatbed trailer. This is what we are using for our deliveries.
Since this is a volunteer organization, they took donations to buy the trailers and you can even sponsor a trailer or your business can. I think it’s only $200 for the whole trailer. They mount little billboards on the sides. Already mentioned to them that they should have something on the back so that cars approaching me from behind can see that it’s a Meals-On-Two-Wheels rig because not many folks except walkers and cars at intersections will see the signs.
You can see the rig in motion with this news story here.
I was concerned a little about how heavy the ride would be and did I need ‘trailer brakes’ – after all there’s hills! Well the ride was smooth. It barely felt like I had a trailer – it was built very sturdy. I could only feel the extra weight. Stopping or going downhill was the very easy as well. I took it a little easy and didn’t brake hard. My speed varied anywhere from 4 mph (up those steep inclines) to 26 mph going down hill and around corners without any issues.
I only had 4 stops and it took about 30 minutes of riding round trip, about 60 minutes including stopping and chatting with the people I was delivering to. I’m not sure you would be any faster in a car. And I would submit that speed really shouldn’t be your focus in life.
Meeting the elderly people was very fulfilling emotionally. I had some great conversations. One woman I later learned was born in 1911! She’s almost 100. She even mentioned during our conversation that traffic was concerning her by her home and that she’s seen women with “buggies or whatever their called nowadays,” and was concerned for them. We may call them strollers now but it was great hearing her talk. She also informed me that she felt bicyclists should contribute to roadway maintenance and should be required by law to wear lights. I figured I’d discuss those merits with her next time. :)
Another woman was very happy I was delivering by bicycle and she told me her son was out for 6 hours on Sunday riding his bike.
I’m looking forward to future discussions.
I had a great time and I’m looking forward to the next one. I’m hoping one day that Heidi might even be able to join me or if you are looking for something to do, ride along with me.
Also, I’d like to use the trailer a few more times but I think I might purchase one. I’ve also been told that I may get a better deal through Loaves & Fishes through Burley than buying it directly. I think it would make a great way to run larger errands like making runs to Target for toilet paper/paper towels, etc.
Also for those of you with large families, now you can do your grocery shopping too.