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More than a meal

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By Jonna Spelbring Priester

General manager

Each weekday, by 11 a.m., volunteers at the Henry County Senior Citizens Center are busy assembling 18 small meals. Those meals are whisked away by more volunteers, who deliver the food, still hot, to the doors of a small handful of elderly residents.

The home delivered meals program, often referred to as Meals on Wheels, is more than just a meal for many seniors. For some, according to Betty Chilton, site manager for Tri County Community Action Agency in Henry County, the daily delivery sometimes is the only contact with the outside world program participants may have.

"When we go in, if there's anything going on, and the (volunteers) say, (he or she) didn't look good today, we'll call him back and say is everything all right? Is there anything we can do? Is there somebody we need to call," she said. "We check on them. That's what home delivered meals is all about - one-on-one contact with that person."

Pam Pryor, who has volunteered for two years, said she began helping with home delivered meals when a friend she went to church with volunteered.

"I enjoy it," she said. "I love the people I serve. It's good to see them once a week and talk to them and see how they're doing. You get involved and form relationships."

Chilton said the center is limited in the number of hot meals it can serve - right now, just 18 senior citizens receive the meals. Chilton said there are two routes for the program, one each in Eminence and New Castle.

"I would have more routes if I had more volunteers," she added.

But more volunteers wouldn't necessarily mean more hot, home delivered meals, the number of which is set by KIPDA. Even then, more meals wouldn't necessarily mean senior citizens in Campbellsburg, Pleasureville, and some of the county's eastern communities would be able to get the delivered meals.

Because of temperature requirements, only seniors who live within a five mile radius of the senior center can receive the hot, home delivered meals.

"Campbellsburg, Lockport and Pleasureville are not in that," Chilton said. "It all has to do with the temperature. Our temperatures have to be 140 degrees for the hot food and nothing above 40 degrees for the cold. You're transporting from here five miles - and you're stopping in between places." Additionally, the food must be delivered within one hour of its departure from the senior citizens center. To keep hot food hot during transport, the volunteers use special carriers with heated packs in them, and coolers for the cold items.

But where possible, she added, Chilton can place some seniors on frozen meals. Currently, Chilton said she just has one senior citizen who utilizes the frozen meals. A neighbor picks up the meals and delivers them.

"She has really great neighbors," Chilton said.

Congregate meals served at the center itself are part of the program as well, and Chilton said she simply needs a head count the day before the meal to make sure there's going to be enough food for everyone.

"If you want to come tomorrow, you call me today before 1 p.m., and I'll make a reservation for you," she said. "I'll make so many for congregates, and so many for (home delivery). If you happen to drop in and want to eat, I won't have it. Normally, I try to order one extra. I'll order one for myself, and if somebody shows up, they get that meal. We never throw any away, or have any that are not consumed."

For the home delivered meals, a resident must be at least 60 years of age and of low income. Chilton said with 18 recipients, she has four more on her waiting list to receive the meals. In addition to the hot and frozen meals, Chilton said twice a year program participants receive MREs.

E-mail us about this article at editor@hclocal.com.