GILBERT, AZ — The Waymo self-driving cars are on a new mission. You've seen them carrying passengers. Now, a special fleet of vans and trucks have been dedicated to making deliveries; everything from mail to commercial goods, and now food bags to serve seniors in the East Valley.
Once a week volunteers at AZCEND put together dozens of food bags to drop off at the Gilbert Senior Center. Paula Knight, the food bank manager, then calls for a ride. What shows up is a bright blue self-driving car, with Waymo Via plastered on the side. Staff load up the car then it's off to the senior center to make the drop-off.
Right now, you will see a human inside the car, as the technology is new, but Waymo officials say the car is in fully autonomous mode, so the human does not touch the wheel.
Trinity Donovan, CEO of AZCEND, tells ABC15 that seniors are especially vulnerable right now. Since the start of the pandemic, they have seen the requests for help with food go up 110% among seniors.
"It is a myth that social security will be able to provide for seniors' needs," said Donovan.
The Gilbert Senior Center is where many of these seniors can come to pick up their food boxes. It was also where AZCEND operates their Meals on Wheels program, so seniors who ask for a menu could pre-order food and come to pick it up, at no cost.
AZCEND volunteer Karla Paredez said sometimes they are the only human interaction some of the seniors would have all week.
"It just makes me really, really happy that we can help them, and we can be a part of their lives," said Paredez.
Denise and Steven Bolles, who live across the street from the Gilbert Senior Center often walk over together to pick up their food boxes.
This time they ordered the prepared meals, which consisted of chicken tacos. "What a blessing," said Denise.
"It has really helped us. Our bills have gone way down," added Steven.
For seniors unable to get to the Gilbert Senior Center, AZCEND volunteers will deliver meals and food boxes straight to their homes.
If you are a senior in need or know one who could use help in the Chandler and Gilbert area you can get information about the food bank distributions at Food Bank – AZCEND.