My Turn: Meals on Wheels means hope for the homebound
June 22, 2009
Something’s eating away at me. It’s the image of an 86-year-old woman clinging to a bedrail in a small, isolated cabin. A television blares and her dog leaps with delight as we enter her cluttered world.
The shocking stench of human and animal urine burns my nostrils, but it immediately moves to the background as I see the most welcoming, beautiful smile emerge from the face of a woman so happy to see us that eye contact with her is all that matters. This isn’t a snapshot from a summer fieldtrip to Appalachia. This is right here in our town, Truckee, the place we all call home.
A few days ago I shadowed a Meals on Wheels home delivery service volunteer who took me to a world I did not know existed. We turned down roads I never noticed in my 29-years of living in Truckee. This is the story I want to share about how vital Sierra Senior Services’s Meals on Wheels program is to our community.
First of all, the immediate crisis is that fresh cooked meals prepared Monday through Friday in the senior dining hall on Estates Drive may have to cease due to lack of funds.
and visitors because there’s no money to continue doing so. As of last week, the Area 4 state agency that oversees the Meals on Wheels program mandated that the dining room remain open until July 31, instead of a June 30 cutoff, to allow extra time to get community support. If the dining room closes, nutritionally balanced frozen meals will be delivered three times a week. If a volunteer knows someone doesn’t have a microwave then Sierra Senior Services will find one for them. Of course, the most important thing about a home-cooked meal is not only the nutritional value it provides; it’s the communal sharing and caring. It’s human contact and the simple gesture of good will toward another person.
For the woman mentioned above, the only outside contact she may have for days at a time is the Meals on Wheels delivery person. Contact with her would drop from five days a week to three.
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and#8220;We’re really their eyes,and#8221; says Debbie Turner, Meals on Wheels Home Delivery Coordinator for Sierra Senior Services. and#8220;We help a lot of people and we help their families, too, by seeing them daily, by checking in on them, and if we see something that needs attention, we can call someone for assistance,and#8221; she adds.
Every delivery we made on Tuesday made a positive impact on that person’s day. Each recipient was homebound, elderly and in need of services. They smiled, talked as long as we could listen without getting off schedule, and thanked us for bringing them their meal.
and#8220;One of the main goals is to keep them in their homes and maintain a good nutritional level of care,and#8221; says Turner. and#8220;They want their independence and they want to be like everyone else.and#8221;
According to Sarah Deardorff, Executive Director, most of the home delivered meal participants are long-term locals who have lived in our community for many years, they have raised their children here, they’ve worked here and they’re aging in place in Truckee.
Many residents at the Truckee senior apartments make the trip to the community dining room once a day to enjoy companionship and socialization with their neighbors.
and#8220;The dining room is the only thing they have,and#8221; emphasizes Turner. and#8220;It’s the only place they go out to meet others. Food gets us all. Food is their reason for leaving their apartments.and#8221; In addition to meals, the dining room also hosts musical performances, educational seminars and fun seasonal activities.
Seven-year resident Henry talks openly about meal cutbacks and praises the
Sierra Senior Services staff for the hard work, dedication and love they provide.
and#8220;The people around here are a supportive group. It’s a shame to lose any of these services, but we’re not so naïve to know that money isn’t tight. My mother always said and#8216;Be thankful for what you have; don’t complain about what you don’t have.’and#8221;
The Truckee/North Tahoe community has almost as many residents over the age of 60 as children. According to the Area 4 Agency on Aging, seniors make up about 18 percent of our population. I was shocked to learn how many residents here are over the age of 80; who live alone; who rely exclusively on Social Security checks for their income.
With state funding in flux, and grant money and private donations down, Sierra Senior Services needs our help. Continual efforts by the Truckee Tahoe Community Foundation help pave the way for financial assistance, but we all need to know that this crisis is not going away.
As the senior population grows over the next 20 years, more and more services will be needed. Our community needs to provide an annual flow of income to support these services and it needs to come on a regular basis, not just once a year at holiday time. Plans are in the works and we’ll keep everyone updated along the way.
and#8220;When times are down, you really find out who your friends are,and#8221; reflects Henry. and#8220;I’m not a complainer. We’ll get out of this mess. I love living up here. It’s where you live and where you’re happy that matters. It’s people understanding people. Truckee is my home.and#8221;
Let’s keep Henry’s vision going. We’ll get out of this mess and#8212; as long as we work together to make it happen.
Marianne Porter is a new board member for Sierra Senior Services.
To make a donation to the Senior Meals on Wheels program, please contact Sierra Senior Services at (530) 550-7600 or visit http://www.sierraseniors.org. Checks can be mailed to: Sierra Senior Services, 10040 Estates Drive, Truckee, CA 96161. The cost per delivered meal is $15.