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Copyright 2009-2010 by
Mary Brotherton
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Inside my Brain

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Years ago, when an elder neighbor became unable to eat properly due to sickness, surgery, or other disabling situations, mothers prepared piping hot, nutritious meals for them. These meals were lovingly wrapped in dish towels and then placed in a cardboard box or paper bag along with a note, and sometimes a freshly cut flower. Then they were delivered in old fashioned “Meals on Wheels,” with instructions for the delivery person. These instructions varied with the situation, and the age of the one making the delivery.

In that era, Meals on Wheels were kids on bicycles, or children pulling little red wagons. The mothers’ instructions could be “Tell Mrs. Jones I hope she feels better soon”; “You wait until she is finished eating, then you come right back home”; or “Be sure to take Mr. Smith’s garbage out, and walk his dog while you’re there.” Sometimes, these traditional deliveries were just for one person in the neighborhood. At other times, two or three people might be in need of a special meal, so the orders probably included, “Make sure Uncle Bob’s lunch is just as hot as Mrs. Jones’. Don’t be stopping to pet Joe’s dogs before you finish up!”

Today’s Meals on Wheels program is sponsored by the Community Services Council serving seniors of Brevard County, and covers the entire county. Since 1974, qualified persons have received hot, nutritious lunches five days a week thanks to volunteers who often have nothing more to give than their time.

There are currently 470 volunteer drivers whose mothers probably taught them, that when people help those who cannot help themselves, quite often, the one doing the helping gains the most.

Meals on Wheels Director, Janice Wise says that her volunteer drivers tell her, “You feel so good doing this,” and they wonder why more people don’t take advantage of something that can make them feel good for a small investment.

“Where else can you get such a good feeling in such a short amount of time? My mother spends two hours a week driving her route, and then she goes shopping,” said Wise, who has worked with the program for 21 years. A lifelong resident of Florida, she has been a Brevard County resident since 1976.

Currently, there are 750 people who receive not only nutritious, hot lunches, but lunches that are delicious, and a friendly face delivering them. The lunches are prepared in the Brevard Community Kitchen, overseen by Alex Montminy, who once cooked in the General Mills test kitchens.

The Brevard Community Kitchen was built in 1992, after the estate of a former client of the Meals on Wheels program donated $650,000 to build it. In the past 13 years, the kitchen has served residents of Brevard County with hot, nutritious, popular meals.

“It’s a miracle every day,” said Ms. Wise, “Over 2000 meals are delivered in 2 hours.”

The Brevard Community Kitchen provides 750 hot lunches to the Meals on Wheels Program, and 450 meals are delivered to the Seniors at Lunch program. Alzheimer’s centers, child care centers and Easter Seals day programs get the remainder of these meals.

Ms. Wise stated that the “Kitchen” needs to get $40,000 to purchase new equipment that can no longer be repaired. Yet, Montminy, who has worked with the “Kitchen” for eight years, is more concerned that the Meals on Wheels program should get more volunteer drivers.

Wise and Montminy realize that their two organizations have formed a symbiotic relationship, and each would like to see funds generated to help the other, as well as volunteers who will come forth to help keep a vital program moving. Both would like to see more people volunteer to be drivers so that no one is overburdened.

“We desperately need drivers until the snowbirds return,” Montminy said.

Originally from Massachusetts, Montminy came to Florida in 1970, and believes strongly that, “More drivers mean better quality for the client. More drivers mean shorter routes which mean the clients get better care. The food is fresher and hotter. The client can visit longer with the driver, or the driver can help prepare the meal rather than just delivering it.”

Both Wise and Montminy recognize that the program offers the value of social interaction, in addition to a good meal.

Montminy said, “The most important thing that Meals on Wheels provides is for our clients to remain at home and not go into assisted living facilities. We eliminate a state expense, by helping the people remain in their homes.

He calculates that, “Meals on Wheels saves the state and county more than $2.5 million a year. The same meals we provide which cost $250 a month would cost over $6,000 if they were served in an assisted living facility.”

Wise agrees that the drivers do much more than delivering a meal each day. “They provide a safety check for the client’s well being. Often the driver is the only person a client will see all day long.”

Montminy added with concern, “The Federal Government wants to use frozen meals which are delivered by Fed Ex with a microwave, and every two weeks more meals are delivered, but what happens if the homebound person has a problem, or falls during that two week period? The Fed Ex man won’t know until he comes back two weeks later to see the package still on the step. What if the person cannot get to the door to get the package in the first place? Our Drivers can see subtle changes from week to week, and make the necessary calls for help if needed, before it’s too late.”

“We only have 470 drivers right now. Most people don’t realize that we need 657 drivers,” said Montminy. “The ideal route is 7 stops to get everyone a quality meal.” This quantity of drivers guarantees that no one has to drive more than one day a week, unless they choose. This also ensures backup drivers for vacationers or when a driver becomes sick. “What’s two hours out of your week? It’s easy to work a route into your daily routine.”

There are 94 routes with 8 to 18 stops on a route. The routes average 10 miles each. “If we have a shortage of drivers, we may have to ask someone to drive two routes,” said Wise.

There is no charge for the service, but Wise noted that some clients like to make donations, which are appreciated. Some former clients have come back to volunteer as drivers, or to make special contributions.

“Meals on Wheels is not just for people who will never be able to go out or cook again. It is also great for people recuperating from hip surgery or illness and who need a little time to get better,” said Wise.

Who qualifies for Meals on Wheels? Homebound persons over 60 years old, persons who are at risk nutritionally, and the spouse of one who has qualified can receive Meals on Wheels for a short time, or a longer term. Wise said, “We would prefer to serve those with lower income, but income is not a factor in qualification.”

To find out if you or someone else qualifies, call the Senior Help line at 631-2747. Persons who want to call on behalf of another must first have their permission to call.

To volunteer as a driver, to make donations, or for more information, call 639-8770.