Meals on Wheels: A welcome return
From four clients to 41, a local service is rekindled
Meals on Wheels is back. The program providing food at home for elderly and homebound clients received new life in Fort Dodge this year, after four years of struggling and uncertainty.
“When we started last March we had four clients,” said program coordinator Barb Michaels. “Today we have 41.”
Meals on Wheels in its current form officially started on March 6, 2017. It’s now a project of the Fort Dodge Community Foundation/United Way of Greater Fort Dodge.
Before that, it was 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.
And so far things seem to be going successfully.
“The numbers are growing quickly. We also have several applications in process. So I suspect by early spring we’ll be close to 45 or 50 clients,” Michaels said. “Likewise our volunteer numbers have grown. It’s really encouraging to me that our community as a whole is embracing the program.”
Some companies adopt delivery for a week and adopt all four of the routes, providing all the volunteers, she said. Other companies provide enough volunteers for just one of the four routes, and Michaels puts four businesses together.
“We now have several individuals who have built their own teams to take deliveries around. Our volunteers deliver one week out of every nine weeks, so not quite once a quarter,” she said.
“That’s one of the things I’d still like to grow, is our volunteer pool Especially as our numbers grow, because we’ll have the need to increase to five routes. Right now we’re delivering four different routes in Fort Dodge. As our numbers get higher we’ll have to break that down to five, just to make it manageable. We try to make sure delivery doesn’t take longer than an hour, to an hour and 15 minutes.”
Volunteers don’t head out if the weather is bad and schools are closed, she said, out of concern for the safety of the volunteers.
Meals are provided by Hy-Vee, she said.
“We have some good financial support. That’s an area we’re really working on now, is donors,” Michaels said. “A little over 55% of our clients pay $3 or less for their meals. They simply can’t afford it. And we will not turn a client away just because they don’t have the financial ability.”
The meal cost is $5, Michaels said.
But these volunteers are providing more than just a meal. Michaels said there have been a number of incidents now where the volunteers were able to get medical assistance to their clients.
“They’ll knock on the door, nobody answers. We call the emergency contact, and they’ve fallen, or they’re not well,” she said. “Who knows how long it could be before someone would check on that person that day?
“And another nice thing I get to experience is, I get to hear from the volunteers how grateful they are to have the opportunity to talk with our participants. How thankful our participants are for the program,” Michaels added. “I also get calls from some of our participants, some of them even on a weekly basis. I think some of it is clients who are lonely, who have no family and are looking for someone to speak with. It’s way more than a delivery of a meal we’re providing.”
In all the program is doing great, Michaels said, thanking the community foundation for its support and Deb and Casey Johnson, of Fort Dodge Ford Toyota, for their leadership. Deb Johnson is secretary of the Community Foundation/United Way board.