By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
DEARBORN – The donation of seven new wheeled coolers will make it easier for volunteers to deliver Meals on Wheels to home-bound seniors, following fundraiser by Fairlane Alliance Church at the recent Dearborn Homecoming festival.
The group did face-painting and offered wristbands imprinted with “Meals on Wheels together we can deliver” for donations.
Fairlane Alliance also donated seven insulated hot packs to the Meals on Wheels distribution site at Kennedy Plaza, 5111 Bingham, which serves seven routes each weekday.
Church member Janet Gleichauf, who also delivers meals to home-bound seniors, said the wheeled coolers make it easier for volunteers to get them to their vehicles when they load up for their route.
“We have senior citizens that have to carry these big coolers out to the parking lot from the site, and it is kind of a distance,” Gleichauf said. “They need coolers on wheels.”
Gleichauf said Sisson Manor, 1515 Mason, a second city Meals on Wheels site, whose coolers and hot packs are also showing wear, will inherit and use Kennedy Plaza’s current insulated hot food bags and non-wheeled coolers.
The Rev. Andrew Conway said Fairlane Alliance Church has a booth annually in the community tent at Homecoming, and each year they choose a fundraising project that will benefit the community.
This year they selected Meals on Wheels to raise public awareness and to help the volunteers who do the actual meal deliveries.
Conway said most people are aware of Meals on Wheels, but don’t realize how federal funding for it is at risk even while the senior population is growing.
The Meals on Wheels America website, mealsonwheelsamerica.org, indicates that the senior population will double by 2050.
“This need is going to grow and grow,” Conway said. “The money is actually pretty tight, and it is not guaranteed that Meals on Wheels is always going to be here. People don’t realize it could go away if it is not supported by the community itself.”
Lisa Robinson, Kennedy Plaza Meals on Wheels site manager, said about half of the program costs are federally funded. Wayne County and The Senior Alliance also help fund it.
TSA – Area Agency on Aging 1-C is a non-profit organization with a network of home and community-based services for older adults, caregivers, and eligible persons with disabilities who live in western and southern Wayne County.
Gleichauf said many people have misconceptions about the program, and don’t realize that while it is subsidized, seniors pay for the delivered meals.
“It costs (more) to make the meals, but they will accept $2.25, and the (volunteer) carrier takes them a bill at the end of the month,” Gleichauf said. “We are giving them a hot, nutritious meal every day. They are in their own homes – they are not in nursing homes – which is just wonderful. That’s what this is all about.”
Robinson said seniors are only billed for the meals if they can afford it.
The Area Agency on Aging 1-B, an advocacy group that supports Meals on Wheels in six counties in southeast Michigan and metropolitan Detroit, said the meals are available to seniors age 60 and older who are unable to adequately prepare meals, and is not based on recipient income.
Robinson said home-bound seniors generally do not drive, and might use a walker or cane. She stressed the importance of the daily meal delivery to the health of home-bound seniors. She said they also have low-sodium meals, and menus for diabetics.
“It is just very important that we try to keep our seniors healthy, that we keep them out of the hospital,” Robinson said, “and that they have a good hot meal at least once a day, to keep their nutrition up.”
Gleichauf said the weekday food deliveries also offer a wellness check. If a senior doesn’t answer the door, the volunteer calls a contact person, and if necessary, police will check on the senior.
“Some of our drivers have found people on the floor,” Gleichauf said. “It’s kind of a lifeline, and if you can help somebody else, it really helps your heart. It makes you feel better.”
Conway said while financially it makes sense to help seniors stay in their homes and avoid nursing home expenses, they help the program to witness to their faith.
“We’re doing it to show God’s love to the community,” Conway said. “Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ so that applies to us today. Our neighbors include the elderly, so partnering with Meals on Wheels helps the church to remember who our neighbors are.”
Robinson said the program needs more adult volunteers who have a good driving record, and can pass a background check, to deliver Meals on Wheels.
“We need the community to support and help us out,” Robinson said. “All of the donations that we get go right back into the program.”
Robinson said that some days, the volunteers who take seniors their meals are the only people they will see that day, and the wellness checks have saved several lives.
“Someone could have fallen in the bathroom, or they couldn’t get to the door, and (the volunteers) could hear them through the door,” Robinson said, “and they were able to call the police and get someone there.”
Rod Raatz of Dearborn, an 18-year volunteer, usually delivers meals once a week. He said he has tried, without success, to get some of his friends to volunteer.
“I came here as a poor kid in college, with no money, and the community was good to me, so I wanted to give a little bit back,” Raatz said. “It’s a good program. You get bonded with some of these folks.”
Jim Cipkowski of Dearborn Heights said the program always can use more volunteers.
“Actually we are short of people over here,” he said. “These people are home-bound and they depend on us.”
Catherine Koroi of Dearborn began volunteering three months ago after undergoing chemotherapy. She said she wanted to help others while she fully regains her health.
“I was always used to working, and I worked in the food industry, so as I started to do more and more, I always wanted to volunteer in the community that I lived in,” Koroi said. “Giving out after going through things you realize that other people need help, too. It is like a give-and-take. You are supposed to give where you live.”
To volunteer with Dearborn Meals on Wheels, call 313-943-2412. To learn of volunteer opportunities elsewhere in Wayne County, call the TSA at 800-815-1112.
In Dearborn, volunteers are needed weekdays 7:30 a.m. to noon. Some volunteers prepare meals. Others deliver food on a 45- to 60-minute route. Volunteers may ask for mileage expense reimbursement, but Robinson said most do not.
Hot lunches also are served daily for $2.25 at the sites. Call Kennedy Plaza at 313-581-1039, and Sisson Manor at 313-565-9806, 24 hours in advance to reserve a meal.