Meals on Wheels is the term affectionately used to describe the delivery of hot meals to homebound senior citizens. In Juneau it is offered by Southeast Senior Services. The service is a critical piece of the agency's mission to promote the health, independence and quality of life of seniors living in our region.
Nutritious meals speed recovery from injuries, surgery or illness and may actually prevent disease. Each home-delivered meal meets one-third of the daily recommended dietary allowances under the Elderly Nutrition Program funded under the Older Americans Act. In accordance with grant guidelines, each meal consists of 3 ounces of meat or protein alternate, two half-cup servings of vegetables or fruits, one serving of whole-grain bread or bread alternate, eight ounces of milk and one-half cup of a nutritious dessert. The meals are designed to be low in fat, sodium and sugar.
Most of the funding for Juneau's meal program comes from the Alaska Commission on Aging, client contributions and the CHOICES (Medicaid waiver) program. The home-delivered meal service funded by the ACOA is for any person age 60 or older who is homebound due to illness or disability and is unable to come to the senior center for lunch.
According to grant guidelines, meal recipients are encouraged to pay what they can toward the cost of the meal, more or less depending on what they can afford. Some seniors prefer a "suggested donation rate," and that rate in Juneau is $3. No one will be denied service because they cannot afford to pay. In fact, homebound seniors with low incomes may be eligible for the CHOICES program, which will pay for all their meals.
In Juneau, Meals on Wheels are delivered between 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. by volunteers. In addition to bringing a hot, nutritious meal, the volunteers' daily visits provide a safety check for seniors living alone. Meals on Wheels volunteers actually have found seniors who had fallen and may have saved their lives by calling for help. Since many of the seniors who receive Meals on Wheels live alone, the delivery volunteer is often the only person the homebound elder sees each day.
The Meals on Wheels delivery volunteers offer a friendly smile and daily social contact for isolated homebound seniors.
"The volunteers get to know each elder as a unique, fascinating individual," said Lorrie Wright, volunteer coordinator for the Meals on Wheels program. "When you're a Meals on Wheels volunteer, you can really see and feel you're making a difference in people's lives."
Wright says that this is the time of year when the program especially needs volunteers. Volunteers generally work one day of the week (during their lunch hour) and choose one of seven delivery routes. Each route involves delivery to the homes of up to 10 clients.
"Parents of small children are welcome to bring them on the delivery route the elders really enjoy seeing the children and it's a great way to teach social responsibility," Wright said.
Persons interested in becoming Meals on Wheels volunteers can call Wright at 463-6179 for more information.
Marianne Mills oversees senior citizen nutrition and transportation programs in Juneau, Skagway, Sitka and Yakutat as a staff member of Southeast Senior Services, a program of Catholic Community Service. CCS assists all persons regardless of their faith.