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Volunteer steps out from behind wheel

After 24 years, Roseville man delivers final meals
By: Eileen Wilson Special to The Press-Tribune
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The mood was festive at the Manzanita Place apartment complex in Roseville last Wednesday. Cake, gifts and hearty handshakes all around – all in honor of Meals on Wheels volunteer Butch Cervantes. Cervantes, 89, looks and acts decades younger. He has been a delivery driver for Meals on Wheels for the last 24 years. But all good things must come to an end and Wednesday Cervantes delivered his last meal to homebound senior citizens. “There are people who have done it 10 or 15 years,” said Brenda Cathey, a Seniors First representative. “But most people stay one or two years, before changes in their lives cause them to move on.” Cervantes is a real hero in the eyes of Seniors First employees, who run the Meals on Wheels program. He’s especially heroic to the clients he has served over the years. Wednesday’s meal was oven-fried chicken, collard greens and black-eyed peas, which Cervantes hefted in loaded ice chests, and carted to his vehicle with ease. In addition to providing nutrition to senior citizens, volunteers like Cervantes provide camaraderie. Volunteers might be the only human interaction clients will have all day. Volunteers often help with tasks such as making phone calls, writing letters and performing small household chores. Cervantes, who is one of a few drivers who volunteers twice a week, rather than once, covers a route that includes west Roseville. On a typical day he will deliver a dozen meals to seniors, but has been known to deliver up to 18 meals in one day. Navigating the west Roseville route has been like a homecoming for Cervantes. From 1956 to1984 he drove an 80-mile rural route as a mail carrier for the United States Postal Service, which encompassed the same roads as his Meals on Wheels area. While Roseville has certainly changed since Cervantes moved here from Lassen County in 1956, he said that the area has changed gradually, so it wasn’t too difficult to get used to. His volunteer job allows him to deliver meals to Roseville seniors, and he even visits a resident whom he delivered mail to more than 20 years ago. Cervantes originally involved himself with Meals on Wheels at the request of St. Rose of Lima Church, where he attends every Sunday, and also at the request of his wife, Maria. “I’m very proud of him, and he’s been a good husband – always very supportive,” she said. According to Ed Cervantes, Butch Cervantes’ son, his father has always worked two jobs, so it’s only natural that he wouldn’t stop working once he retired from the post office. The senior Cervantes served overseas during World War II and was an artillery sergeant in the Battle of the Bulge. He pulled green chain in a lumber mill in Westwood, a small mountain town in Northern California – a job which is usually referred to as the toughest in the mill, especially for a slight, 120-pound man like Cervantes. While working at the post office, he worked nights as a custodian. “He’s cleaned half the buildings in Roseville,” Ed Cervantes said. Is Cervantes sad to see his long-time volunteer gig come to an end? “In the morning I didn’t even think about it – now I’m getting excited,” he said. He does admit to having clients he’s developed special friendships with and said he will miss them all. “There’s one lady I talk to more than the others,” he said. “She’s in a wheelchair. Her name is Shirley and she’s real nice. I pick her lemons and take her garbage out.” Cervantes has trained other drivers in their routes over the years – some 50 men and women learned under his tutelage. In the weeks ahead, he’ll have more time to devote to his yard and garden, where he grows chili peppers, tomatoes, and nopales, a kind of edible cactus. Ed Cervantes credits his father’s great attitude and three-mile daily walks for the spring in his step. The Seniors First organization, a nonprofit group based in Auburn, hopes to find more volunteers like Cervantes to serve the 400 to 500 meals a day prepared for senior citizens. In addition, they are looking for volunteers to help with the Senior Transportation Services Program, Friendly Visitors Program, Handyman Program and more. Residents interested in any of these programs can visit www.seniorsfirst.org or contact Brenda Cathey at (800)878-9222, ext. 206.