An agency that prides itself on “delivering kindness” is on track to serve 220,000
meals to 2,400 seniors by year’s end.
That’s a 5 percent
increase over the previous year.
The volunteer drivers
for Mid-Columbia Meals on Wheels distribute about 450 meals to homebound
seniors each day along 45 routes in Benton and Franklin counties.
More than 500
volunteers are expected to log 30,000 hours of labor and record nearly 100,000
miles by the end of the year.
Each year the number
of seniors needing hot meals grows.
“In 2009, we were
serving 132,000 meals. That’s 90,000 less than what we’ll serve this year,”
said Kristi Thien, nutrition services director for Senior Life Resources
Northwest, the parent organization of Meals on Wheels.
From 2017-18, the
agency saw 16 percent growth in the number of meals delivered, a significant
increase, Thien said.
“We’re grateful it
slowed down just a bit,” she said.
The program also
offers a noon meal at eight dining centers throughout the two counties for more
Volunteer Mike Neely
helps assemble meals for the seniors once a week. Poverty isn’t just a
third-world problem, he said. “We have lots of people here who don’t know where
their next meal is coming from,” he said.
Volunteers and staff
worked Nov. 20 to assemble 700 emergency meal kits. Consisting mostly of canned
goods and other shelf-stable items, like granola bars and trail mix, the kits
are meant to tide seniors over when drivers can’t get to their homes because of
snowy roads or road closures. Each box contains five meals. The boxes were
distributed Nov. 25.
The agency delivers
meals Monday through Friday. On Thursdays, seniors receive frozen meals to
reheat on the weekends and holidays when there are no deliveries.
In the coming year,
Meals on Wheels will begin preparing and assembling its own frozen meals. Right
now, the nonprofit buys them.
“We’ll be able to have
control over the nutrients, the quality and we can do it less expensively,”
Senior Life Resources
Northwest recently completed a $100,000 project to build a 1,200-square-foot
facility to house a large freezer to store the meals. Lamb Weston donated
$50,000 toward the cost of the building, and a local physician donated $30,000
for the new freezer.
In addition to meals,
volunteer drivers also deliver gifts to seniors around Christmas time.
Each holiday season a
giving tree decorates the agency’s Richland lobby that features tags
highlighting items seniors would like to receive. Hats, gloves, stationery,
stamps, cat and dog food, slippers, sweat pants and Walmart gift cards are
among the most requested items. This year nearly 200 seniors made requests.
Drivers deliver the
gifts before Christmas. “They love being able to do that,” Thien said.
Because Meals on
Wheels drivers often serve as the front line of defense for seniors with their
daily check-ins, they know seniors can get lonely.
But the drivers don’t
have time to stop for long visits during their routes, Thien said.
That’s why Meals on
Wheels plans to roll out a new “friendly visitors” program this month aimed at
connecting seniors and volunteers.
“It’s a chance for
people who aren’t available to volunteer during the day to sign up and visit
some people who are lonely,” Thien said.
While the nonprofit is
always grateful for all its generous community support, nothing is appreciated
more than simple monetary donations, Thien said.
“Money for meals is
always my No. 1 request,” she said.
The agency faced an
unexpected expense when thieves broke into and stole one of its vans on Nov.
The 1998 van, equipped
with a food oven valued at $3,000, was “worth very little money but is
priceless to us,” Thien said. “It becomes the most valuable car you own because
you don’t make a payment on it. It functioned perfectly. We used it every week
to pick up bread,” she said.
The van was discovered
abandoned just before Thanksgiving in Seattle. Thieves apparently used it to
transport marijuana. They spray-painted over the Meals on Wheels logo on the
outside, stole the oven and license plates, and damaged the steering column to
hot wire it and the doors no longer lock.
Thien said the van
will need to be decontaminated before it’s usable again.
It’s not the first
time thieves targeted the nonprofit. They once busted the back window of a
sedan to steal $8 worth of food. It cost $300 to replace the window, Thien
How to get involved
in helping with meal delivery or the friendly visitors program must undergo a
The Senior Life
Resources Northwest office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 1824 Fowler St. in
For more information,
call 509-735-1911 or visit seniorliferesources.org.
Daily and Monthly NewsSign up now!