Meals on Wheels honors volunteers, looks to fill slots

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

The Sweet Home Senior Meals on Wheels program is thanking its volunteers for their work with a special barbecue on Saturday at the Senior Center.

At the same time, “we’re trying to get more people to join us in the dining room,” Senior Meals Manager Norene Dennis said. All seniors are welcome to a lunch free of charge on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays at the Senior Center.

Most people know about the Meals on Wheels program for delivering meals to seniors and certain disabled persons, Dennis said. Generally, it serves seniors over the age of 60. Everyone over that age is eligible.

“It is a donation program and funded by the federal government,” Dennis said. It also receives funding from several grants and Oregon Project Independence. Sweet Home Economic Development Group has provided funds as well in the past.

“A lot of folks, especially way over the age of 60, they get fragile,” Dennis said. They can’t shop for themselves or cook.

With Meals on Wheels, “they get a balanced nutritious meal at least once a day,” she said. Many of these seniors live alone, so program volunteers are able to check in on them regularly and offer them a smile.

“It’s more than just a meal,” she said. “We try to check if they’re doing okay.”

The Sweet Home program has approximately 30 volunteers. It delivers 60 meals per day. The dining room serves about 12 meals per day, but those are primarily volunteers who are eligible to receive meals.

“The one thing I would really like to get is a person that could come in and do dishes,” Dennis said. That position is usually needed between 10:30 a.m. and noon three days a week.

She also is seeking substitute drivers, she said. Drivers receive a mileage reimbursement of 58.5 cents per mile.

Without the volunteers, the program wouldn’t be able to run, Dennis said.

Once a year, the program recognizes its volunteers. A barbecue will be held Saturday, including gift baskets and raffle prizes, for volunteers and their families at 1 p.m. at the Senior Center.

“They’re very important, and we try to make sure they know we know that,” Dennis said.

While the dining room activity is slow, meal deliveries have slowed somewhat as well, Dennis said. Until recent months, the program delivered 70 meals per day. That change is attributable to some seniors going on vacation while others have moved to assisted living facilities.

Meals on Wheels food seems to carry the stigma of institutional food, Dennis said, but it does have a variety, and most meals are pretty good.

The meals are made in Salem, and “they’re constantly trying to think of the upcoming generation,” analyzing what each generation likes.