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Wheels on Meals CEO would like program to reach more people

by Clarke Davis

Helping people be independent and providing the things necessary to keep them in their homes is important to an aging population. Heidi Pickerell would say a warm meal every day is one of them.

Meals on Wheels rolls into the eight Jefferson County towns Monday through Friday to hand meals off to 40 volunteers who in turn knock on the doors of homebound senior citizens.

Meals on Wheels President and CEO Heidi Pickerell

Meals on Wheels President and CEO Heidi Pickerell with a delivery van in Valley Falls. Photo by Clarke Davis

Heading the Shawnee and Jefferson County organization is Heidi Pickerell, Valley Falls, who became the president and CEO last May.

She talks about the obvious worth of the meal, but she emphasizes the importance of the personal contact made daily by the volunteer.

“We received a call from a recipient’s daughter last week who said, ‘Had you not called . . .,’ ” Pickerell said. In this case it was believed to have been a medical problem and the Meals on Wheels delivery person had notified staff that he thought something might not be right.

Part of the volunteer’s job is to make a notation following a visit that they found everything in order or if they did not, to explain. If they perceive that the person might not have been quite themselves, Meals on Wheels has a social worker who will make a follow up call to that individual or another contact person just to check on them.

Pickerell is well suited for her job and has been in the trenches, so to speak. As a senior at Kansas State University, she was a Meals on Wheels volunteer. Her degree is in gerontology and long-term care administration.

She spent 15 years with Midland Care Connection and was vice president of client services. While there she served as the liaison between Midland and Meals on Wheels to provide regular volunteer services.

“I personally know the importance of the daily visit for someone who lives alone,” she said.

Today her job is to attract corporate sponsors who not only provide the necessary funding but provide many of the 1,200 volunteer delivery people as well. But that’s in the city. There’s not a lot of corporate structure in rural Jefferson County where Meals on Wheels relies far more on the individual volunteers who give of their own time and money to help out.

To receive meal delivery at the home a person must be 60 years of age and be considered homebound.

“That doesn’t mean one never leaves their house,” Pickerell said. “It just means that it’s difficult for a person or that they need considerable assistance to go to a meal site.”

“A young person can also be eligible if they are a caregiver and homebound because they care for someone who cannot leave,” she said.

The process is rather simple to apply. One has to call Meals on Wheels (Ph. 785-670-2434) and a social worker will make a follow up visit. The visit is short and the questions are few. One’s finances or ability to pay is not discussed. People are asked to make a donation based on their ability to pay. While a donation of $2.95 per meal is encouraged, some pay more, some less, but payment is not required.

Most of the questions, Pickerell said, are to help the volunteer who will deliver the meals: Should they come to front door or side door? Is the person hard of hearing? Do you have a microwave oven?

Also important are the dietary needs. Meals are prepared according to the health needs, such as low sodium for some or low sugar for diabetics.

It’s in the rural areas that Pickerell believes more growth and services are needed. Furthermore, she thinks more meals should be in the offering and hopes that someday it will be possible.

She has some questions of her own. For instance if one meal at noon is important, don’t people get hungry come suppertime? And what about the weekends?

Given sufficient funding, she believes a frozen entree could be delivered along with the noon meal for supper and a couple of additional frozen meals provided on Friday for the weekend.

Frozen meals might also be the key to getting the rural homebound served. While there is no service to the back roads in the rural areas, she thinks it might be possible someday to make one trip with five frozen meals to one’s home.

This is the 40th year for Meals on Wheels in Shawnee and Jefferson counties and the program is newly accredited. The hot meal program came into existence with the federal Older Americans Act. The program is directed by a 15-member board and Pickerell has six other full-time employees and about 20 part-time employees. The full-time personnel consists of a financial officer, a social worker, a dietician, and three assistants that include a receptionist.

The Meals on Wheels offices are located on Huntoon in Topeka at Washburn Tech, formerly the vocational school operated by the Topeka school district, USD 501. The district prepares most of the meals and, in doing so, provides the office space.

Pickerell said the district is now creating a kitchen in a building on the former state hospital grounds and the Meals on Wheels offices will move there as well.

The meals are now prepared at Topeka West High School. There are about 1,000 meals prepared daily with 600 going to the homebound and 400 to meal sites in the two counties. She said the program is obviously a good revenue source for the school district but the connection between Meals on Wheels and the school district is also “because the district wants to be a good community partner.”

The meals at Winchester are prepared by the hospital and the meals at Nortonville are prepared by the Village Villa Nursing Home. There are meal sites in Oskaloosa, Valley Falls, Meriden, and Winchester.

There is a second meals program now available in certain areas called “CHAMPSS” (Choosing Healthy Appetizing Meal Plan Solutions for Seniors) operated by the Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging. Under this program senior citizens can use a plastic card to purchase meals at commercial sites such as grocery store dining halls or restaurants.

Pickerell said she is for seniors having choices and wishes her department could have been a part of that program too. Nevertheless, as that program takes hold it will have an effect on where the Meals on Wheels dinner sites will be located or relocated.

As for Jefferson County, the CHAMPSS program is now only available in Oskaloosa.

With a budget of about $1.8 million, Meals on Wheels derives about 51 percent of its income from tax revenue from all levels of government, 32 percent is contributed by the recipients, and 17 percent comes from gifts, memorials, and special events, such as the Sumptuous Settings events.

Pickerell said a committee is now at work to find new methods of fundraising.

Short URL: http://www.jeffcountynews.com/?p=11517

Posted by on Jan 9 2012. Filed under Featured, The Vindicator. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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