Members of the STEP (Solutions That Empower People) Board of Directors are getting a first-hand taste of what it is like to be elderly and unable to take care of the most basic necessities, such as preparing a hot meal, or in some cases even just picking up the mail.
During March for Meals, a month-long initiative of Meals on Wheels America, the board members are helping deliver meals and check on seniors.
“By delivering nutritious meals, friendly visits and wellness and safety checks, Meals on Wheels allows our seniors to stay independent longer, saving billions of dollars across the country in social and health care costs,” said STEP Board President Peggy Morrison, who helped deliver meals in Rocky Mount and the Glade Hill community Monday.
“For some of our elderly residents, the Meals on Wheels delivery is the only human contact they receive on a daily basis. Lives have literally been saved because someone knocked on the door to deliver a hot meal,” Morrison continued.
STEP is one of nearly 300 local Meals on Wheels programs across the country engaging their communities to build the support to enable them to deliver nutritious meals, friendly visits and safety checks to seniors all year long.
STEP collaborates with the Southern Area Agency on Aging (SAAA) in Martinsville to provide Meals on Wheels to senior citizens in Franklin and Patrick counties. SAAA provides funding and approves applications for STEP’s program, and STEP prepares and delivers the meals. Currently, a total of 88 seniors (56 in Franklin County and 37 in Patrick) receive five meals a week. Officials estimate that about 21,000 meals are delivered in both counties over the course of a year.
“The value of this service can’t be underestimated, in terms of the social savings to our communities,” said STEP Executive Director Marc Crouse.
“The program runs largely on the work of volunteers, with a total of 10 paid staff in senior services and the kitchens compared to 28 volunteers in both counties.”
STEP’s two kitchens in Rocky Mount and Stuart prepare hot, nutritious meals according to federal guidelines, which are then transported in insulated containers to the seniors. Deliveries are made mid-day five days a week.
The meals must be in the senior’s hands within two hours of preparation.
For seniors who live too far from STEP’s kitchens to make the timed delivery, frozen meals are delivered or grocery bags are packed with enough canned and pre-packaged food for 20 meals a month (5 meals a week).
Feeding the seniors is not all that STEP’s Meals on Wheels program does.
Recognizing that many people rely on their pets for companionship along with emotional and mental health, pet food is included in the deliveries for pet-owning home-bound seniors, as funds allow.
According to Crouse, should funding for Meals on Wheels be cut, the consequences would directly affect senior citizens. “We might have to cut staff. Perhaps we would be forced to reduce the number of meals we can deliver, or the number of clients we can deliver to. Seniors would be left without this vital resource to help keep them healthy and in their own homes.”
Other STEP board members who are helping deliver meals include Betty Kingery, Patti O’Neal, Angela Phillips and Crystal Harris.
“What an exciting morning! I had the opportunity to join two of our STEP volunteers while they were delivering meals to members of our community,” Kingery said. “Thanks to the support from STEP, we are enhancing the lifestyles of these community members.”
Meals on Wheels America created the March for Meals as a way to commemorate the month in 1972 when President Nixon signed into law a measure that amended the Older Americans Act and established a national nutrition program for seniors 60 years and older. Meals on Wheels is a vital public-private partnership that keeps America’s seniors healthier at home and out of more costly healthcare settings.
“March is a time for us all to rally around Meals on Wheels,” said Ellie Hollander, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels America. “Our ability to meet the needs of vulnerable seniors lies in the willingness and generosity of businesses, government and concerned individuals of all ages to contribute in their own way. It not only makes economic sense to enable seniors to stay healthy and safe at home, but it improves the health and vibrancy of our communities and our nation at large.”
STEP (Solutions That Empower People) is a community action agency with services in Franklin and Patrick counties, and Bedford, Martinsville and Danville. Services include Early Head Start and Head Start; youth services (LIFES Academy and Project Discovery); senior services (Meals on Wheels, transportation); supportive services (re-entry, homelessness prevention); housing and weatherization; and financial services (tax preparation assistance, financial education, individual development accounts). STEP’s mission is to empower people to overcome barriers to economic, educational and developmental success within the communities it serves.