Keeping Erie County seniors well fed

Melissa Topey
May 5, 2014
Dropping off a hot meal, visiting with someone for just a moment and having a laugh with fellow volunteers.

Sound good?

Then you might consider volunteering for Meals on Wheels. Our nation’s population is aging. Citizens 65 years or older numbered 39.6 million in 2009, the latest year for which data is available.

By 2030 there will be about 72.1 million older persons, more than twice the number in 2000, according to the Administration on Aging.

More and more older people are living on an ever-tightening budget, with some relying entirely on Social Security.

For people in these circumstances, Meals on Wheels may be their only hot meal for the day.

On some days, talking to Meals on Wheels volunteers is their only conversation.

That became evident to me Thursday morning as I helped volunteer Richard Myosky — yes, retired Perkins Township Fire Chief Richard Myosky — deliver Meals on Wheels to 12 clients.    

Several had been watching for us, which was obvious as they stood in their open doorways while we got out of the vehicle and grabbed their food.

We would make conversation with the clients, asking how they were doing that day, chatting about the weather, maybe discussing their yards and what plants were coming up.

“It’s rewarding,” Myosky said. “You get fond of these people”

One sweet client on the route is blind and suffers from Parkinson’s, with her hands shaking noticeably.Her place setting on the kitchen table was perfect and waiting for her lunch. Myosky took the wrap off her meal and cut up the chicken for her, and we told her about her lunch: chicken, broccoli, strawberries and milk. We talked about the wind and how she was doing. After a couple of minutes, we left her to her meal.

Some clients seemed to be living more comfortably, while others obviously lived entirely on Social Security — I’ve learned some people try to make their meals last by eating half the food for lunch and the other half for dinner.

Many clients suffer from medical conditions, which makes the role of volunteers like Myosky even more important. Myosky notices everything: Does the client appear to be taking his or her medication? Is he or she making sense?

“I have found four people lying on the floor inside their homes,” said Myosky, who started volunteering in March 2012. “Sometimes you hear them yelling for help”

Despite the clear benefits, Meals on Wheels programs throughout the country are in danger of being cut, if it hasn’t happened already.

Clients pay what they can for the meals, and funding also comes from grants, foundations and donations. The drivers are volunteers, which helps keep down costs.

But all that still might not be enough. Locally, the program needs both volunteers and financial donations in order to keep providing its services.

It costs Meals on Wheels (funded by the Erie County Senior Center and the Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio) about $4.50 per meal, based on figures from a couple of years ago, said Carol Lloyd, director of the Erie County Senior Center.

More and more states have completely cut the Meals on Wheels program. Ohio may be soon to follow, Lloyd and Myosky both said.

But in the meantime, they’re doing all they can. The senior center made 430 meals Thursday, with volunteers delivering 240 of them to Meals on Wheels clients. They make all these meals in an old kitchen with outdated equipment, but I can attest: They make it work.

While helping load the meals into the hot boxes the drivers use when making deliveries, I watched five people in an assembly line make and seal about 80 meals in about 20 minutes’ time.

“I have always been amazed at how efficient they are,” Myosky said. “The big problem they have always had is funding”

Delivering the meals Thursday took about an hour and put 8 miles on Myosky’s SUV. Not a bad deal for getting to feel like you did some good.