Meals on Wheels on a roll

Program revives in FD with funding, volunteers, coordinator

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter Adela Griffel opens up her Meals on Wheels dinner Ñ beef and noodles, mashed potatos and corn today. Griffel said for only $5, she gets a generous portion that often lasts two meals.

Adela Griffel has lived in her current house for more than 30 years. Pictures of her great-great-grandbabies adorn the fridge, and her old dog is eager to dispense kisses to any visitors.

Being able to stay in that house while she’s still healthy is important to her, and that’s one of the reasons Griffel is so grateful for Meals on Wheels.

“I don’t get around very well, and as a result I probably wasn’t eating the way I should,” Griffel said. “One reason I was interested in Meals on Wheels was to get a balanced diet.”

Griffel has been a customer with the program ever since it was rejuvenated about two months ago.

Meals on Wheels in its current form officially started on March 6, said Coordinator Barbara Michaels.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter Adela Griffel chats with Rhea Everett, from Elderbridge, as she delivers Meals on Wheels recently. The program has volunteer drivers from churches, businesses and organizations all across Fort Dodge.

It’s currently a project of the Fort Dodge Community Foundation/United Way of Greater Fort Dodge, Michaels said. Eventually the goal is for Meals on Wheels to become its own independent 501(c)3 organization.

“We have gotten an outstanding response from the community, incredible support,” she said, “and I think it’s a great thing to provide to seniors in our community who need a meal.”

Meals on Wheels in Fort Dodge was previously run by North Central Home Care, until it closed down in late 2013.

Ever since, staff at United Way have been wondering how the program could be expanded, said Chief Executive Officer Randy Kuhlman.

“After a couple years of on and off planning, saying what can we do … it was ultimately decided we need to hire a coordinator to focus on the Meals on Wheels program, and try to rejuvenate the program,” Kuhlman said.

Webster County Public Health was able to take on some of the duties after North Central closed, he said

“Meals on Wheels is the kind of program that really requires a dedicated coordinator, it requires volunteer drivers. It’s quite an operation to make it work successfully,” he said.

Deb Johnson, co-owner of Fort Dodge Ford Toyota and secretary of the Community Foundation/United Way board, was instrumental.

“She’s been the spark plug on that,” Kuhlman said.

Johnson said she was inspired by the Thanksgiving meal she and her husband and family provide every year at the dealership.

“Last year about 1,700 meals were served on Thanksgiving, about half of those in the home. Doing this annually, seeing the need in homes, we had the conversation,” she said. “I’m assuming these people who need meals for Thanksgiving probably need one other times of the year as well.”

It was clear a coordinator was needed to devote time to the program, Johnson said. The community foundation started looking at other Meals on Wheels programs around the area — in Humboldt, Ames, Webster City, Mason City, even Des Moines.

“Communities our size are typically delivering 80 to 100 meals a day,” Kuhlman said. “We know there’s a need here, and it’s just a matter of developing the program, marketing it, and making everybody aware that it’s here.”

Fort Dodge’s program was once feeding 80 people a week. It had dwindled down to about 15 people before Michaels took it on, Kuhlman said.

Right now there are 20 clients, but the program hasn’t been widely promoted yet, said Michaels.

Meals are provided by Hy-Vee. All meal deliveries are made by volunteers, said Michaels, who come through a number of churches, businesses and organizations.

“I created a Facebook group and put the all call out, and I was shocked at how quickly I got an overwhelming response,” she said. “There are 10 groups. … They take care of all the deliveries for that week they’re on the schedule. Once every 10 weeks, it’s not a huge time commitment.”

Meals are available on a sliding fee based on a person’s need, she said. Full price is $5 per meal.

“On average I’d say most of our clients pay 50 percent of that or less,” she added.

That’s a good deal, according to Griffel.

“The portions are generous,” she said. “For me it is too much for one meal. I have the rest at dinnertime.”

The program doesn’t just provide meals — it also provides social contact, as well as a safety check. That’s especially important for seniors who live alone or don’t have family in the area, Michaels said.

“For some of them, there’s nobody there to check on them, make sure they are OK, they haven’t fallen,” she said. “The nutritious meal, friendly visit and safety check will help them cope with three of the biggest threats of aging: hunger, isolation and loss of independence.

“Research proves that when seniors have the right support, they gain greater quality of life, need fewer hospital stays and live longer.”

Griffel certainly appreciates the visits.

“It’s nice to see a smiling face come through the door and offer you a plate of food,” she said.

And it’s something anybody can do, Griffel added.

“It is so important for a community to interact. This is an opportunity for everybody to volunteer.”

Just this week the Meals on Wheels program secured a $10,000 grant from 100 women who care, Michaels said. Those funds will help pay for the people getting reduced-price meals.

“It’s a great boost to our program right now,” she said.

Until Meals on Wheels becomes its own charitable organization, tax-deductible donations can be sent to the United Way.

The goal is for all the funding to come from donations and grants from private foundations, Kuhlman said — no state, federal or other public funding.

To learn more, contact Michaels at 571-0174 or