Meals, wheels and extraordinary volunteers
Home delivered meal programs provide better quality of life for homebound seniors in Southern Maryland
Lack of mobility in the community or at home significantly narrows an older person’s world, affecting his or her ability to do what brings enjoyment and meaning to life, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
As functional ability — physical, mental or both — further declines, people may lose the ability to perform more basic activities such as taking care of personal hygiene, feeding themselves and getting dressed, the report called “The State of Aging and Health in America 2013” noted.
Current data on health-related behaviors among people 55 to 64 do not indicate a positive
future for the health of older Americans. However communities can play a pivotal role by making healthy choices easier and making changes to policies, systems and environments that help Americans of all ages take charge of their health, according to the report.
As an aging and senior programs nutritionist for the Charles County Government Department of Community Services, Lisa Furlow said providing good nutrition is vital to keeping seniors strong and healthy.
“Many of them have medical conditions that can worsen with a poor diet,” Furlow said in an email. “Without proper nutrition and fluids, people can become malnourished, weak or dehydrated. This can increase their risk for falls or worsen their health and put them in the hospital. Some clients start [requesting] meals because they have just had a surgery. Good nutrition is vital to healing.”
Her agency administers a variety of nutrition services to senior residents, aged 60 and older, in accordance with statewide nutrition programs. All menus provided through the department’s senior nutrition program are written by a registered dietitian and meet at least a third of the recommended daily allowances of vitamins and minerals for older adults, according to the Charles County government website.
The services offered through the program include home-delivered meals, which are available for eligible seniors and their spouses who are homebound due to illness or disability, and are unable to shop for food and prepare meals for themselves. The meals are provided through a cooperative effort between the community services department and local meals-on-wheels organizations. Contributions toward the cost of the meals are requested and may be based on a sliding scale, the website also noted.
“If they fit into that category, then we deliver [hot lunchtime meals] to them Monday through Friday,” Furlow said. “We use volunteer drivers who go all over [Charles] county to deliver meals. We get our meals from the board of education, which is our caterer.” The meals are delivered to drop-off points throughout Charles County. Volunteers pick up those and deliver them to individual homes.
Furlow said the meals are prepared by kitchen staff at the Robert D. Stethem Educational Center in White Plains.
“They all come out of that central kitchen,” Furlow said. “We have about 150 volunteer drivers that deliver the meals, but we don’t have any paid drivers. The only paid drivers are the ones that we contract through the board of education who deliver the meals to the drop-off point.”
Furlow said the Charles County volunteers are assigned to one of 11 different areas. “Each route covers their specific area and then we have volunteer coordinators that help us with scheduling of the volunteers,” she said. “We get the volunteers through various different ways — we advertise in our newsletters, at the senior centers [and] sometimes through church bulletins, [but] a lot of it is word-of-mouth.”
The agency prefers people who are available midday, have their own transportation and can commit to delivering meals at least once per month, Furlow said.
“Sometimes that’s a challenge for people who are still working. We only ask people to commit to once a month delivering so sometimes even if they’re working, they can work it around if they have a day off or a flexible schedule,” said Furlow.
“It’s not that tough because it’s normally 10 o’clock [in the morning] to about 1 o’clock in the afternoon, middle of the day,” said Mike Creveling during a joint phone interview with his wife, both of whom are volunteers and live in La Plata. “For some people, it goes from every other week to once a week. That’s not a giant commitment I would say. But when you look at your calendar, say you have a doctor’s appointment or are arranging a vacation, you have to bear in mind what you’re doing.”
Mike Creveling, a retired biology teacher from Oxon Hill High School, has volunteered with the program for about 10 years. He noted it really is better to give than receive. Having an opportunity to interact and socialize with homebound seniors is the highlight of his day, and oftentimes his clients’ as well, he said.
“You feel good when you’re doing good, so it’s a win-win situation,” Creveling said. “I look at the clients as myself in 10 or 20 years. It is a bright spot in their day to talk to someone in person because one of the eligibility criteria is they’re supposed to be homebound with limited ability to go out. In many cases, you’re the only person they see during the day and so it makes you feel good as a care provider to see them brighten up. … The secret, I think, is that the social interaction is probably more important than the nutrition.”
“I don’t need any of these services at this time, but there might come a day when I would. So why not go ahead and help those who need help?” said Anne Creveling, a retired math teacher who has been a volunteer driver since 1997. “This is just one way to do it.”
St. Mary’s County Department of Aging and Human Services has a diversified home-delivered meals program, which is federally funded through the Older Americans Act as well as through state and county funds and donations. Clients receive either fresh, hot meals midday, Monday through Friday, or five frozen meals once a week, depending upon need and location.
“Sometimes you’ll find that with these seniors, the meal that they get from us is really the only meal that they’ll have in a day,” said Monika Williams, a program coordinator at the Garvey Senior Activity Center in Leonardtown, one of three centers where meals are picked up. “Some of them have other issues that they need help with and so I will go in and do an assessment. If I see they are needing assistance, I can also tell them about some of the programs in the community that they can have access to. And with their permission, I’ll refer them to those services. … We also have grants where some of them can qualify and that’ll pay a portion of the caregiving agencies’ expenses. A lot of people don’t know that.”
With more than 120 volunteers, Williams said they are all wanting to simply give back.
“I volunteered because I thought it was helpful to the community,” said Penny Ellington of Leonardtown, who has delivered meals for about one year. “My father lives with me, he has dementia. So I understand how elderly people can be. It’s good to keep an eye on them.”
Since its inception in 1982, Calvert Meals on Wheels — an all-volunteer organization run by a volunteer board of directors — has worked in partnership with the Calvert County Office on Aging to deliver more than 325,000 meals to senior citizens’ homes. Its mission is threefold: to provide nutritious, home-delivered meals; enable the homebound to live independently as long as possible; and to relieve the isolation and loneliness of the homebound, according to the group’s website.
Organization president Bob Robertson oversees about 150 volunteers and eight routes throughout the county. Improving the quality of life for homebound seniors is an important focus, he said.
“We look for somebody who’s got a passion to help a very vulnerable section of the population here in Calvert County,” said Robertson. “Our ultimate goal is to help the elderly live more independently. … That segment of the population is growing, so that’s an important group that as a society we’ve got to be aware of and look toward helping.”
Every year, Robertson said the organization administers a survey to get an idea of what clients think about the services.
“One of the other things that we ask in this survey instrument is, ‘What do you think about the folks that are delivering the meals to you?’ Our clients are saying that they’re happy to see them every day,” he said. “It’s another kudos, I think, for the types of volunteers that we get because they care about the people that they’re helping and it shows through the feedback that we’re getting from our clients.”
“By delivering the meals, we’re able to stop [by] in the middle of the day and kind of be a friendly face and say hello,” said volunteer Donna Deale, a driver and co-coordinator for the Huntingtown route. “I think it’s probably comforting for the families to know that somebody is there to check on them. … I look at my retirement as an opportunity to pay it forward.”
As a former employee for the Fairfax County Department of Family Services, Carolyn Cunningham said the personal, societal and economic effects of a meals on wheels program promote healthy aging in place.
“You get to know them on a personal basis and you see needs beyond delivering the meals,” Cunningham said. “It just gives you a really good feeling to see people happy with a smile on their face. … I’m a firm believer that if you do give, you get good things back.”
Mike Creveling hops in his truck at the Richard R. Clark Center on June 2 to begin his La Plata route. Creveling, a La Plata resident and retired biology teacher from Oxon Hill High School, has been a volunteer driver for about 10 years. His wife, Anne Creveling, retired in 1997 and has also volunteered since then.
Jasmine Logan of Upper Marlboro smiles as she receives a meal from Creveling on behalf of her great-great-randmother, who lives in La Plata.