More Than A Meal With Meals On Wheels
By Kerri Regan
Food & Friendship
By Kerri Regan
Photos by Manda Reed
At first glance, a delivery from Meals on Wheels may look like a simple plate of nutritious food.
But for the clients who depend on this service, this meal nourishes both body and soul.
Meals on Wheels delivers healthy meals on weekdays to people age 60 and older who are homebound and have no one to prepare food for them. The meals are approved by a registered dietitian, and frozen meals are available for weekend use.
In addition to the food, Meals on Wheels also provides a much-needed daily dose of compassionate human contact. Sometimes, the Meals on Wheels volunteer or staff member is the only person the client sees all day—and it serves as a safety check, since this person is likely to notice if something is not right, says Debbie McClung, executive director of the Shasta Senior Nutrition Program, which operates a Meals on Wheels program.
“Our elderly are able to stay in their homes much longer, and with the dignity they so deserve,” McClung says. “The daily check from our driver is more than a welfare check. It’s a friend who cares about them. They’re not just bringing in food, but some companionship, as well.”
Customers are asked to pay $3.50 per meal (the actual cost of the meal is about double that), but qualified customers aren’t denied meals based on inability to pay.
The first known Meals on Wheels delivery was in Philadelphia in 1954, and it has grown into one of the largest and most effective social movements in America, helping nearly 2.5 million seniors each year, according to the organization. Meals on Wheels has more than 5,000 independently run local programs, including several throughout Northern California. More than 2 million meals have been delivered since 1980 by the Shasta Senior Nutrition Program’s Meals on Wheels alone.
Drivers come from all ages and backgrounds – “it’s just somebody who knows how to connect and cares deeply,” McClung says.
Robin Crouch has been a driver for Meals on Wheels for 11 years. She delivers meals to about 40 people – some daily, some weekly and some on a temporary basis, such as people who have recently had surgery and just need some extra help for a bit. She has always had an affinity for the elderly. “When I was growing up, my grandmother lived in a mobile home park, so it was like I had 23 sets of grandparents,” she says with a laugh.
The best part of her job? “Definitely my people,” she says. “They appreciate that I’m helping them. They’ll say, ‘I don’t know what I would do without you,’ and they worry about me when I’m late. If I have to get gas and I’m five or 10 minutes late, they’ll say, ‘I was so worried, honey – I’m so glad you’re OK.’”
One of those clients is Catherine Gibson, who celebrates her 103rd birthday this month and has been on Crouch’s route since she became a driver.
“I always know I’m going to receive a good, filling, hot meal – always delicious with plenty of fruits and vegetables,” Gibson says. “Robin is very friendly and willing to talk to me. You get to know her as a friend. She is dependable and I look forward to seeing her every day.”