Meals on Wheels: A quick visit and a hot meal
by Clarke Davis
Having a hot meal show up on one’s doorstep at noon each day is the primary mission of Meals on Wheels, but it comes with other benefits.
It mostly serves an aging population, although anyone who is homebound is eligible. It’s one of the important services helping keep people in their homes.
“Having someone check on a person’s wellbeing each day brings peace of mind to their relatives,” said Heidi Pickerell, Valley Falls, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels of Shawnee and Jefferson Counties Inc.
The calls from volunteers start filtering into the Topeka office shortly after noon telling staff if any problems have arisen.
Two recent calls were fresh on Pickerell’s mind in a recent interview. One volunteer called to say a person’s house felt too cold and the contact person was notified, in this case a relative, who found the furnace had malfunctioned and the home was only at 55 degrees.
In the other case, the volunteer found a person had fallen and made their first call to 911 to summon an ambulance.
“It’s a great safety check. You can’t beat another set of eyes and ears,” Pickerell said.
Meals on Wheels has just completed another successful year in serving its communities, which includes all eight incorporated towns and the village of Grantville in Jefferson County.
Pickerell has been elected president of Meals on Wheels Association of Kansas, representing all MOW organizations in the state. It meets regularly in Topeka.
She and other MOW officials are busy this time of year meeting with local, state and federal representatives reminding them of the need to continue funding these programs.
Pickerell was quoted in the Wall Street Journal last month in an article about the lower fuel prices, which dropped about 60 cents a gallon in the past three to four months. The paper was reporting how significant these costs are for organizations like Meals on Wheels, and the CEO confirmed that it was certainly helpful.
Nearly 1,000 meals are prepared for MOW week days and these are scattered out on 68 delivery routes. Some go to private homes while others go to congregate meal sites.
USD 501 is the contracted caterer. The kitchen and the MOW office are located near 6th Street and Macvicar in the school district’s education and science district. It’s also the location of the new Kanza Cafe that recently opened.
Those 1,000 meals must also meet the dietary requirements of the people receiving them as well as the nutritional guidelines set by the federal government.
“At least this is an age group who will eat their vegetables,” Pickerell said, alluding to another age group—the school children—who won’t eat them.
But beyond nutritional guidelines are the health concerns. The meals are all low in sodium and some have to meet the requirements of those who have diabetes and renal disease. Some have to contain all soft foods because the recipient has chewing problems.
“Not all seniors can eat an apple,” she said.
Pickerell also knows that people need a meal every day and that includes weekends. She has worked to provide extra meals for weekends and holidays and is trying to accommodate rural folks as well.
Enough meals for a week are now being taken to rural homes. In some cases, family members are arranging the transportation. These are fresh meals and just need to be heated.
Besides government grants, MOW seeks private donations and holds fundraisers to offset the cost to the client.
“We have a lot of generous poeple who believe in our mission,” Pickerell said.
One annual event will be continued. The Sumptuous Evening Gala in the falls is a popular event and supported by numerous food vendors in the Topeka area.
On the other hand, Pedal to the Metal at Heartland Race Track will not be held again. Pickerell said that too few people were interested in drag racing their vehicles.
“While it was a successful fundraiser, the money came from sponsors instead of individual ticket sales,” she said.
The race track owners, Nancy and Raymond Irwin, are public minded folks and strong supporters of Meals on Wheels, Pickerell said. The Irwins have made a number of suggestions on ways MOW can continue to partner with Heartland.
Pickerell is active in the local community serving on the school board and heading up the Parent-Teacher Organization. She and her husband, Todd, have two children, Natalie, a sophomore, and Nathan, a seventh-grader.
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