Keeping the Meals on Wheels rolling

Monday, March 17, 2014
Courtesy: 
Waterbury Republican American
Waterbury, CT

For the last couple of years, Monday through Friday, anywhere between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., Ann Marie Corden, who has multiple sclerosis and diabetes, can count on one important thing: Getting meals delivered to her.

A Meals on Wheels driver brings the food to her home, where she can heat it up in the microwave.

The service has helped her handle being homebound much easier. "I have no idea what I'd do," the 65 year old said, pausing to think about what she would do with it. "I guess my husband would have to prepare some food for me before he leaves for work."

In recent years, demand for Meals on Wheels has increased in Waterbury and Danbury areas, where New Opportunities runs the program for about 950 people daily, said Lisa LaBonte, the agency's director of nutrition services. New Opportunities is reimbursed only for 900 meals a day, so funding for the rest comes from donations and fundraising efforts.

Funding for the program has not increased since 2007, despite the higher costs of food and gas needed to deliver the food.

Funding for 45 percent of Waterbury clients comes from Title 3 Federal Funding from the Older Americans Act. The other 55 percent of Waterbury clients and all the Danbury clients are served through the state's Homecare Program for Elders, LaBonte said.

There is a bill before the Legislature to increase funding for the program. "We're talking to legislators and trying to educate them about what is needed," LaBonte said. "We tell them it's cheaper to provide them with a meal than to pay for institutional care."

The agency is running two fundraising drives this month. Various stores throughout the region, primarily grocery stores, have a program where shoppers can "buy a wheel" for $1, with the proceeds going to Meals on Wheels.

The other is an event to be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Fitness on the Edge in Middlebury, called "Spinning Your Wheels for Meals on Wheels."

Members and non-members of the fitness club can gather pledges to peddle a stationary bike in the normally women's only gym (which will also be open to men for the event). Sign-up for the event is available at newoppinc.org.

The agency needs the help, LaBonte said, especially to serve those meals not covered by funding. For instance, last year 2,511 meals were served, but Meals on Wheels was funded for 158,000.

"We try to serve everyone in need," she said. There are no income level requirements. Recipients must be at least 60 years old and homebound.

Because of the high cost of food and gas, sometimes they've had to "compromise" with meals, LaBonte said, but still meet state and federal guidelines.

"It makes it very difficult, like the cost of beef going up, so we have to use more chicken," she said. "We struggle with that."

Typically, the meals include lunch and dinner and are made by a registered dietitian at Lindley Food Service. They are delivered cold from 8:30 a.m. through 1:30 p.m. The meals are delivered by 20 paid drivers and a network of 12 volunteers who cover both Danbury and Waterbury.

A typical meal will include a main dish, like roast turkey, stuffing, vegetable medley, two milks, two fruits (canned or fresh), pudding or gelatin, as well as sandwich filler, like chicken or tuna salad and bread for the sandwiches, plus one to go with the meal.

"People can decide when they want to eat them," LaBonte said. "They just have to heat them up in the microwave or oven."

Recipients are asked to give a $5 donation a day. Some give more and some aren't able to give any.

"They might live in a nice house," she said. "But a lot of times, they have to choose between heating the house or eating."

Corden said the Meals on Wheels staff caters to her diabetes dietary restrictions, which she said helps her enormously. "I don't have to worry about what I'm supposed to eat," she said.

And, the driver who comes to her home is conscientious, she said, adding that she once forgot to unlock the door and couldn't hear the doorbell, so he contacted the office to have her called to ensure she was OK.

"The drivers are very friendly and they do that type of thing. It's an insurance," Corden said. "I'm very thankful I can get them."

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