Meals on Wheels needs are growing, and the area provider is looking for more volunteers to help.
LifeCare Alliance of Columbus provides Meals on Wheels and community meal sites for Champaign and Logan counties, along with other services to Franklin, Madison and Marion counties. The agency began offering Meals on Wheels in Champaign and Logan counties in the middle of 2014, after the former provider could not continue the program, LifeCare Alliance CEO and President Chuck Gehring said.
In Champaign and Logan counties, LifeCare Alliance has doubled the number of meals provided through Meals On Wheels since it started. Approximately 300 clients are served in Champaign County and 325 in Logan County. This includes clients using the dining centers, Gehring said.
The group hopes to expand its services in Champaign and Logan counties, Gehring said, but it takes time to do that. The agency is a not-for-profit, with much of its funding coming from the federal government and donations.
LifeCare Alliance was the first agency in central Ohio providing in-home health care. It was the second agency to deliver Meals On Wheels, according to its website. The agency still provides in-home health care and homemakers in some counties, along with a cancer assistance program, wellness centers and a foot care clinic. The agency also has a nutrition program for people with HIV and AIDS, similar to Meals on Wheels. AIDS is a wasting disease and proper nutrition helps those who have it, Gehring said.
Other programs LifeCare Alliance takes part in include a summer fan campaign. Anyone wishing to help is asked to buy a fan from a “big box” store, drop it off at a fire station or have LifeCare pick it up. The fans are given to clients.
A cost-effective option for seniors
Meals On Wheels was started in London, England, during and after World War II, Gehring said. It was created when the Germans bombed London. Some seniors didn’t leave their homes and needed help. So the program got its start taking meals to those seniors. Meals on Wheels in America was started in the 1960s under the Older Americans Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson.
“It was the best way to keep people independent in their own homes,” Gehring said. “And it is cost effective. Without the program, seniors often ended up in a nursing home or in assisted living. Folks without assets end up paying for it through their Medicaid, which costs taxpayers money.”
The average nursing home cost is $6,200 a month, he said.
“Meals on Wheels helped my parents later in life,” he added. “Through our services, they got to spend four more years in their house than they could have any other way. We see the same thing with clients who are struggling but want to stay in the house where they knew they were home.”
Meals On Wheels provides nutritious meals to seniors who are home-bound, Gehring said. The contact with the volunteer arriving with meals helps the senior as well, staving off isolation.
LifeCare also hosts Senior Dining Centers in the counties it serves, which gives seniors a chance to get out of the house and socialize with others.
All of these features are at no-cost or low-cost to clients, depending on their specific situation, Gehring said.
About the program
Approximately 98 percent of LifeCare’s Meals on Wheels clients are under the federal poverty level, Gehring said.
“Anybody can have our services. If you need us because you are home-bound, you can’t drive, or are not stable to cook your own meals, you can have them,” he said, though those with higher incomes who can afford a portion of the cost are asked to pay some of it. “Since we’ve been in Champaign and Logan counties, not one person has paid a penny for any of the meal services out there.”
Meals on Wheels can be provided daily, weekly or monthly, depending on the individual client’s needs; clients returning home from a hospital stay can get meals for whatever time period is needed for recovery, Gehring said.
“Every study in the United States shows the number one way to get better from a hospital stay and not have to go back is to have proper nutrition,” he said. “Often, seniors go home and eat what’s in the house, which is crackers and peanut butter, then go back into the hospital.”
The meals can be made for special dietary needs – if the person is diabetic or on a low-sodium diet, for example.
To qualify for the program, a client must first be assessed on what activities they can and cannot do, such as being able to bathe, feed and dress themselves, Gehring said. The person also needs to be a over age 60, though some under age 60 can qualify if they are disabled or meet income guidelines.
Of Meals on Wheels providers, the central Ohio area is one of the top 50 markets in the nation, Gehring said. This area is one of the few without waiting lists for clients.
The demand continues to grow. Research shows that people are staying in central Ohio, not migrating out, as they age.
Meals on Wheels provides pet food for clients with pets.
“About 64 percent of our clients overall in the Meals on Wheels program have a dog, and 62 percent have a cat. What happens is the first thing you do as a senior who is homebound, you basically give up the animal, because the cheapest way to buy food for a dog or cat is a 50-100 pound bag. Number one, they can’t afford that, and number two, they can’t carry it.
“That dog or cat is everything to these people,” Gehring said. “These are people who don’t see people often. Seventy percent tell us they see no other adult on a regular weekly basis, other than our volunteers. That dog or cat ends up being a few things – the de facto social worker, the depression counselor. It also serves as a security system. We’ve had pets tell them when their alarms are going off. They provide companionship when the person is home all day.”
People can donate pet food, and it is distributed to clients in manageable amounts whenever it is needed, Gehring said.
Currently, Meals on Wheels delivers hot meals five days a week, with frozen or chilled meals for weekends and holidays in Champaign and Logan counties. More volunteers and more donations will help expand that. LifeCare provides meals 365 days a year in Franklin County. But to do more, the organization needs more volunteers.
How to get involved
Those interested in volunteering for Meals on Wheels can choose how often they want to deliver and where. Meals are dropped off at a central location where the volunteers pick them up and deliver them. Some businesses, churches and schools participate, giving employees time on their lunch hour to do the deliveries. The deliveries take about an hour.
“The employees of these groups just love it,” he said. “They find it fascinating. It’s fun, they get to know people while driving in the car with a co-worker, they learn about each other, they get to take care of a person, and all the companies and organizations we work with say they really like doing it.”
LifeCare Alliance will train the employees at the business or organization, Gehring said.
“These companies tell us that millennials … want to impact the community while being part of the company. This is the perfect way to do that,” he said.
LifeCare does have some paid drivers, but it was too many paid drivers that kept the prior organization from being able to afford to provide Meals on Wheels. A paid driver can cost $12,000 a person each year, he said.
For more information or to become a Meals on Wheels client, call LifeCare Alliance at 614-278-3130. Those interested in volunteering should call 614-444-MEAL (6325), or visit www.lifecarealliance.org.
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.