Heidi Alden zips along the hallways and up and down in the elevator at NorthTown Mall, a specially-equipped cooler strapped to the back of her motorized wheelchair.
Alden, 27, has a new job delivering Mexican food, and she’s just about memorized the layout of the place. She carries a walkie-talkie to stay in touch with home base at Taco Time, in the mall’s second-floor food court.
Alden and two co-workers, Mike Howell and Scott Solem, each work about 15 hours a week making deliveries to mall employees who cannot leave stores unattended while they go out for a meal.
All three were hired through ARC of Spokane, which also provides a training coach for them.
Alden likes the contact with people at NorthTown.
“I used to work at a backroom job at McCoy’s Craft Village, and I enjoy meeting people and getting to know my customers,” she said.
That’s Howell’s favorite part of the job, too. When he rolls up in his wheelchair, the first thing customers notice is his big, beaming smile.
He parks his wheelchair at the entrance to the business, where he can be seen by the customer, who then comes out and gets his or her own order out of the cooler.
Howell and Alden have cerebral palsy and are confined to their wheelchairs. Solem, who is developmentally disabled, pushes a specially equipped cart to deliver orders.
Employees of small shops in the mall appreciate the delivery service. Sandra Stone, owner of It’s a Wrap, says she uses the service several times a week.
“Otherwise you’re stuck here, and you just go hungry,” Stone said. Staff at Beauty Works, Evangel and the Boot Barn also praised the fledgling service.
Alden, who started work in early April, says the hardest part of the job is waiting for delivery orders to come in. She keeps busy while she waits by stacking and sorting trays.
Sometimes she makes practice runs to learn the location of all the mall’s shops. She marks them on her map with the help of her training coach, Ray Martinez.
Loren Deranleau, manager of NorthTown’s Taco Time, modeled his new delivery service after similar ones at Lakewood Mall and SeaTac Mall in the Seattle area.
He’s hoping to expand the service to offer food from all of NorthTown’s food court shops. He hopes that eventually the young people might even have their own service booth and handle all aspects of the business.
Deranleau chairs the vocational committee of ARC of Spokane and is always looking for employment possibilities for workers with developmental disabilities.
“They make very cheerful, enthusiastic employees,” he said. “They also have helped managers and supervisors to be better at explaining duties, and more patient.”