Meals on Wheels delivers more than nutritious food

Published 5:44 pm Tuesday, March 1, 2022

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By Kim Shuskey

and Kelly Sloan

Davie Senior Services

This March, Davie Senior Services joins the Administration for Community Living and senior nutrition programs across the country to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the national Senior Nutrition Program.

Since 1972, the program has supported nutrition services for older adults. Funded by the Older Americans Act, local senior nutrition programs serve as hubs for older adults (60 and older) to access nutritious meals and other vital services designed to a strengthen social connections and promote health and well-being.

Since 1997, Davie County Senior Services has been a provider in the Senior Nutrition Program network, helping older adults by promoting healthy eating, decreasing social isolation, and improving health. The program also provides connections to home and community-based services that can support independence and overall well-being.

There are three ways older adults can use Senior Services for meals: in-person lunch each weekday at Senior Services, weekly pick up of five frozen meal boxes for those uncomfortable attending in-person due to COVID-19, or hot meal deliveries each weekday to client’s home through Meals on Wheels.

Eligibility for each program varies, but one thing is consistent – the programs could not operate without volunteers.

The impact volunteers have on the nutrition programs is unmatched. There are several opportunities to volunteer, but one of the biggest needs is for Meals on Wheels.

Meals on Wheels clients benefit not only from the food, but from the daily visit by the volunteer.  In many cases, the meal delivery volunteer could be the only person the homebound person sees each day. The meal delivered may be the only meal the person receives that particular day.

Meals on Wheels serves around 115 clients per day with nine routes covering the entire county. There is no waiting list for Meals on Wheels in Davie County, meaning all who need the service and meet the eligibility guidelines will receive a meal.

Eligibility guidelines to receive Meals on Wheels are set by the state: 60 years of age or older; homebound or extreme difficulty leaving the home; unable to cook their own meal due to a physical or cognitive impairment; and have no one willing or able to cook for them (although the meal may serve as a break for someone providing 24/7 care).

Referrals are made to a social worker by home health agencies, doctor’s offices, family members, friends, or the client themselves. The social worker will then schedule a home visit to go and meet with the client and do the assessment.

Once eligibility is determined, the client is assigned to one of the nine routes – 601 N, Advance, Cooleemee, Farmington, Fork, Hillsdale, Jericho, Mocksville, and Sheffield. On Time Catering from Lexington prepares the meals and brings them to the Senior Center each morning.  A dietician works with the catering staff to be sure that the meal meets the nutrition requirements for the program.

Volunteer drivers pick up the meals at 10:30 each morning and start on their route. Most drivers return by noon and check back in with staff to report if anyone wasn’t at home or if there were any concerns regarding the clients.  If the driver encountered an issue or could not get someone to the door, staff will check up on the client by calling the client or their emergency contact person.

During the pandemic, normal operations at Senior Services changed, and daily hot meal delivery was not possible. TRhe Davie County Sheriff’s Office, and two other volunteers who were not in the high-risk age category, and staff delivered a box of five frozen meals each Monday.

Hot meal deliveries will begin again on May 1. A great number of ourpast volunteer drivers were not able to resume driving due to health issues or other commitments.  This means a new group of volunteers was needed.

A lot of people stepped up, but new volunteers are needed. If curious if becoming a Meals on Wheels driver is for you, read on to hear about experiences from current volunteers, including longtime, regular, fill-ins, and new Meals on Wheels drivers.”

• One of thr newest volunteers, Larry Graham just started delivering last month. He had always heard about the program and decided it was time to help.  He delivers the Hillsdale route every Monday and Wednesday.  Choosing this route was practical for him – this route was open a lot and he lives in the area.

He knows what a difference the program makes.  “The people that I deliver to really enjoy seeing someone come.  They love a familiar face.”

• Rick Tesh has been delivering meals since 2010, starting after retiring from a 30-year career with Frito Lay.  Although he has delivered almost every route, he typically delivers twice a week – the Advance route each Monday and the Hillsdale route each Tuesday.  During the height of COVID, when Senior Services was delivering only frozen meals once a week, Rick served as a check-in caller.  Several times a week he would call clients from one route to chat briefly and check in on them, since they were not getting the daily visit from Meals on Wheels.

He particularly has become attached to these clients. “We are put on Earth to serve others, and one day you will be served”.

He feels this is an overlooked population and was influenced by the late John Prine’s song, “Hello, in There”, whose lyrics state, “Old people just grow lonesome, waiting for someone to say, Hello, In There.” Another reason why he delivers? “It’s fun.”

• George McManus is one of the newer volunteers who started after regular delivery was reinstated.  A friend of his delivered meals and, wanting to do something to give back, he decided to give it a try.  George delivers every Thursday, usually with his wife Luzia accompanying him.  He also serves as a fill-in driver when someone is needed at the last minute.

George really enjoys delivering the Cooleemee route. “Because I live in Cooleemee, I enjoy visiting with everyone. The clients that have lived there a long time tell me a lot of history of the town.”  George feels like he receives more than he gives.  “This is one of the easiest ways to give back to the community and see immediate gratification on their faces.  My wife and I enjoy seeing and visiting with everyone on the route.”

• Carter Robertson retired and was coming to the Senior Center for exercise classes. About eight years ago a friend of his told him about delivering meals on wheels. He starting volunteering and now delivers the 601 North route every Tuesday. In addition, he fills in when needed, which is currently 1 or 2 days a week on other routes.  He usually delivers by himself, but is sometimes accompanied by his wife Brenda when she is not busy doing other volunteer work.

Because he sometimes delivers 3 days a week, Carter is appreciative of the fact that volunteers can get mileage reimbursement.  “I just enjoy doing it. I’ve ran in to former classmates and people from my past. I get to see so many different people.”

• Gary Snow has also been delivering for about eight years. He delivers the Farmington route every Wednesday. Gary saw an article about the need for Meals on Wheels drivers in the Davie County Enterprise Record and was looking for some way to give back to the community after he retired. Gary quickly became attached to the clients on his route and has developed relationships with them.

“Just try it one time and see if you don’t want to do it again,” Gary said. “I have developed a lot of friendships with the seniors on the route. It is a blessing to me.”

• Mom and daughter team, Sharon and Sheree McPherson, started delivering meals a couple of months ago. They deliver whatever route is needed one or two times per week.  For them, it is a great outing.  It was Sharon’s mother (Sheree’s grandmother), an on-site lunch participant, who told them about the opportunity when they were looking for a way to help others.  According to Sheree, “Everyone should try it out, even if it’s only one time.  It’s a blessing to help others and then you will be blessed.”

Their testamonies show that Meals on Wheels is a valued, special volunteer opportunity for anyone willing to give it a try. Anyone who drives Meals on Wheels is eligible for mileage reimbursement. lthough most of the volunteers mentioned above deliver one or more times per week, volunteers can deliver as often as they like – once a week, once a month, or as a fill-in.

If interested in learning more about volunteering, and being a part of the Senior Services Meals on Wheels team, contact Stacey Southern or Kelly Sloan at 336-753-6230.  All you need is a valid driver’s license, reliable vehicle and be 18 or older. At this time masks are required when entering the client’s home.

This is the first in a series of articles that will highlight the nutrition programs that have been active in the United States for the past 50 years. Coming up next, learn about the Congregate Meals program.

Also, Senior Services will host a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Older American’s Act Nutrition Program, “50 Years of Nutrition: Celebrate, Innovate, and Educate,” on Tuesday, March 29 at Senior Services’ main campus.  The celebration will start at 10 a.m. with fun activities, games and more, with lunch following at 11. All ages are invited. Call 336-753-6230 to register.

Join us in celebrating our seniors, our program, and our community. Together, we look forward to another 50 years and beyond.