Feeding those in need:
The face of home-delivered meals is changing. The stereotypical image of Meals on Wheels is an older, homebound person being served meals by people who are just a few years younger than they are. But according to Amherst Meals on Wheels director Anne Marie Howard, the demographics on both sides of the door are shifting.
“Some of the big changes we’ve seen are in the populations we’re serving,” she said, adding that one of the agency’s current recipients is only 21 years old. Many of the recipients have chronic illnesses or even just receive services for a short period of time after an injury or illness. The volunteer base has become more diversified, too. Its youngest volunteer is 3 years old, and the oldest is 95. Howard says that the volunteers include teens fulfilling service requirements during vacations from school; parents seeking opportunities to bond with their younger children and teach them the value of service; and individuals receiving services through People Inc. and Heritage Center who want to participate in community life.
“It’s more than just providing nutritional support. It’s a daily contact for the people we serve,” said Howard. Meals on Wheels volunteers are trained to identify potential safety hazards in homes, and the program works with a social worker and other social service agencies. The volunteers never leave a meal at the door: if a recipient doesn’t answer the door, they try to find him or her. If they can’t determine where the person is, they will contact police. “There have been occasions where we found the person in trouble in the house,” Howard said. She recalled an occasion when a woman had fallen in her backyard on a Sunday afternoon. She was unable to get up and spent the night outside. Volunteers discovered her the next day, and she quickly bounced back from the ordeal.
The program has an emergency plan in place. Should the roads be impassable due to weather, the recipients will be called to find out whether they have enough food and medication in the house, and if they have heat and power. If they need food, the Amherst police will distribute emergency food kits provided by Meals on Wheels.
Amherst Meals on Wheels is a separate entity from Meals on Wheels of WNY. Based at the Amherst Center for Senior Services, it employs volunteers in every facet of its operations and follows the same menu as the Erie County Nutrition Program.
Because it is a smaller program, it can provide many personal touches. This year, the Amberleigh retirement community provided new slippers and a Christmas ornament to each recipient. Meals on Wheels also delivers a birthday cake to each recipient, and the volunteers sing “Happy Birthday” to them.
“For some individuals, it may be the only cake or ‘happy birthday’ they receive,” said Howard.
For the past few years, the organization has also participated in a program called Ani-Meals, providing pet food to recipients who meet the income requirements.
“There are people who would share their meal with their pets,” said Howard.
Amherst Meals on Wheels does its own fundraising to cover costs for eligible recipients who can’t afford the $7.50 daily fee. The next fundraiser is a spaghetti dinner to be held from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 18, at the Amherst Center for Senior Services. The meals will be $8.
The staff at the Senior Center and at Amherst Meals on Wheels are hoping to get the word out about both the easy availability of the services and the opportunity to volunteer that exists. Currently, there is no waiting list for Amherst Meals on Wheels. Anyone who is referred to the program is seen by a social worker to evaluate their needs and then can begin receiving two meals a day, delivered during the noon hour.
“We’re a resource here for anyone who knows a senior in need,” said Pam Krawczyk, director of the Amherst Center for Senior Services. “We don’t want to be the best-kept secret.”
If you or someone you know would like to volunteer with Amherst Meals on Wheels, or is in need of services, call its offices at 636-3065. email: firstname.lastname@example.org