By Beth Lawrence

 

The Jackson County Department on Aging is asking people to volunteer to deliver food to and perhaps share a bit of their time with participants in its Meals on Wheels program.

The program needs an additional 13 volunteers to fill in when someone can’t be there and to expand the service.

“Meals on Wheels relies solely on volunteers to provide this invaluable service,” said Karen Davis, nutrition coordinator at the Department on Aging. “Three volunteers are needed to cover our existing routes. There is a waiting list of clients in need of our services. An additional 10 volunteers would allow us to create two new delivery routes and feed an additional 20 elderly participants.”

Currently, 85 volunteers distribute meals to 128 senior residents of Jackson County.

Since 1994, nutrition sites in Sylva and Cashiers have distributed healthy meals to disabled and elderly homebound residents of Jackson County. The goal of the program is to help seniors hold onto their independence a while longer while ensuring that they have enough food to eat.

“Last year, the Meals on Wheels program distributed 24,264 meals to 165 homebound seniors with the help of 115 volunteers,” Davis said.

Meals are delivered Monday through Friday at lunch. Weekend meal service is available for residents who have no other means of getting food on their own or having it brought to them.

Helen Clark, 93, of Cullowhee receives food from the program seven days a week and considers it a blessing.

“I’ve been on it three or four years now, and I wouldn’t miss it for anything because if you’re not able to cook, it’s wonderful,” Clark said. “I know people that don’t have a bite of anything to eat. What would they do if they didn’t have this program? They’d starve to death.”

Another benefit Clark has gotten from the program is having someone to check in on her.

“You’re supposed to call and let them know if you’re not going to be home,” Clark said. “I have missed a couple of times, and Ella will call to see if I’m OK.”

Clark also had high praise for the food. The meals are tasty and meats are tender enough for “old people” to chew, she said.

Food is prepared according to American Dietetic Association guidelines for older adults. Meals must be at least 700 calories, low-fat, low in salt content and plentiful in vitamin C. A typical meal might consist of chicken and dumplings, green beans, carrot and raisin salad, peach cobbler and milk, Davis said.

To be eligible, seniors should be  Jackson County residents, 60 and over, homebound and unable to cook due to age, a medical condition or disability, or not have anyone else to prepare food for them. Recipients can sign up at no cost but can contribute financially to help defray expenses if they would like.

The food is delivered from 10:30 a.m. to noon.

“Meals are delivered by volunteers on 14 routes throughout the county,” Davis said. “The route consists of no more than 10 stops which can be delivered in one hour.”

Volunteers can participate as little as once a week.

Roger Bacon and his wife, Lisa, volunteer together to bring meals to the county’s elderly. Bacon is carrying on a family tradition. His father also volunteered with the program.

Meals on Wheels is the first program the couple lent their time to when they retired 13 years ago.

“We get to meet a good bunch of people,” Roger Bacon said. “We get to talk to them a little bit. It’s not a big burden; we can do our route in an hour and a half or less. It’s rewarding. We feel like we’re giving back to the county and helping some people that need help.”

The rewarding part can be a bit stressful though. Bacon recently encountered a resident who was in dire need of help. The person’s electricity had been disconnected. The home needed repairs and a heater. Bacon was able to get a group of folks together to expedite assistance for the resident and is happy he was able to help.

The goal of the program is to nourish bodies while perhaps feeding the spirit.

“Meals on Wheels helps to reduce hunger among the elderly, and allows older adults to remain living independently in their own homes and avoid institutional care,” Davis said. “This program is more than just a meal. Socialization during deliveries and checking that the participants are well is just as important. For one hour, one day a week you can make a huge difference in the lives of the homebound elderly in Jackson County.”

Businesses, churches and civic organizations can sign up to cover a day as well as any individual who wants to have a positive impact in the community, Davis said. 

Meals on Wheels is funded at the federal and local levels.

Federal money comes via the Older Americans Act channeled through the Home and Community Care Block Grant. Jackson County government provides funding as well. That money allows the program to expand beyond what federal dollars cover, said Eddie Wells, director of the Department on Aging. Community donations also support the program.

To sign up for Meals on Wheels or to volunteer, call the Department on Aging at 586-5494 or visit the office at 100 County Services Park.