Meals on Wheels, United Way ride together for community

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series of columns from agencies served by Jackson County United Way.

Meals on Wheels of Seymour is an organization that delivers hot, nutritious meals five days a week to those who are home-bound, recovering from illness or surgery or who are no longer able to cook independently.

The meals are prepared on site at Schneck Medical Center by trained kitchen staff and can be customized, and thousands of meals are delivered to area residents with the help of numerous volunteers from the community. This would not be possible, however, without the support and leadership of the Jackson County United Way.

For many years, Jackson County United Way and Meals on Wheels have collaborated to serve the multi-dimensional needs of our community. While Meals on Wheels receives financial support from the United Way, our partnership contains much more depth.

There have been times when a client is unable to pay for meals and we have graciously relied on the generous funds from United Way to cover the cost of food. Without this support, many clients would experience daily hunger, challenges with healing, isolation or be moved to a nursing home much sooner.

Having this knowledge and awareness drives the dedication of our volunteers.

Further, knowing the value of community service is just one way the United Way guides and empowers the Meals on Wheels agency. Monetary support is crucial to the implementation of our mission; but the ways in which the United Way have modeled the value and importance of community involvement and service are inspirational and imperative. Better understanding how the Meals on Wheels agency impacts the lives of its volunteers, as well as its clients, underscores the success of our partnership with the United Way.

Poverty and hunger are certainly factors that drive the agency. But its mission goes much deeper. Clients who receive our service don’t just get a hot meal — they receive a friendly smile and a sense of security. Often, the only socialization the clients experience each day is when the Meals on Wheels volunteer comes to the door. This daily, or sometimes weekly, visit gives the client and their families a sense of peace, knowing the volunteer also is there to check in on them.

The benefits of receiving meals often are interconnected with the benefits of delivering meals. Meals on Wheels volunteers are a group of dedicated individuals who step up from local churches, sororities and schools. With the exception of major holidays, volunteers deliver meals five days a week, rain or shine, and even in the snow and ice.

The St. Ambrose Catholic School eighth graders are just one example of the many dedicated groups that support the foundation of the Meals on Wheels program. With the help of adult drivers, these students have the opportunity to deliver meals the second Friday of each month. It is very rewarding for the students to see the clients’ faces light up when they arrive, as the clients especially enjoy when students come to the door. At an early age, then, students learn the value of service and giving back to the community — an outcome that behooves all individuals involved.

Volunteers — young or not — feel a sense of great satisfaction knowing their service helps elderly and home-bound clients feel independent and stay in their homes longer. On a fundamental level, volunteers feel empowered by simply helping those who can’t get out or who have difficulty taking in proper nutrition. Again, it’s a win-win situation for everyone.

Currently, around 30 clients rely on volunteers who deliver meals each day. These volunteers take time out of their busy schedules and are not reimbursed for gas mileage because they know how valuable their time and service are to the community.

The agency would not have the opportunity to serve, though, if not for the vision of Jackson County United Way. We are not just a community partner, we are a proud cornerstone of the Jackson County community. Because of this partnership, we can effectively make a major difference in the lives of our clients and, by doing so, take action to help Jackson County prosper for years to come.

Julie Lemming is president of the board of Meals on Wheels of Seymour. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.