Program delivers meals and friendship

Meals on Wheels can be more than a lifesaver for some senior citizens. It can be a little bit of life, said Eleanore Myers Turkington, senior center spokesperson.

“Most of us, when hungry, step up to our refrigerator to choose dining choices, or we call a favorite restaurant and make dinner reservations,” Turkington said. “We have the ability to grab the car keys and hasten to fill our grocery carts with favorite selections. Yes, we are fortunate.”

Many elderly people become homebound, she said, and those meals become a bit harder to come by.

“The immediate family resides in another state or has lessened in number due to illness and aging,” Turkington said. “Living by oneself lessens the desire for food preparation, especially when you have difficulty reaching, bending and standing.”

In these cases, it’s Meals on Wheels to the rescue.

Not only is the meal driver a visitor to ease loneliness that many elderly feel, that visitor is also bringing a hot dinner.

The Milford Senior Center’s Meals on Wheels coordinator, Marie Wierzbicki-Vaughn, and her drivers Bonnie McAllen and Wendy Fletcher, deliver low-cost dinners prepared at Milford Hospital to homebound residents.

Meals on Wheels serves 46 to 50 Milford clients each day. The national program is subsidized by the federal and state governments, and the Milford Senior Center pays staff out of its operating budget to deliver the meals.

Recipients pay a donation of $1.75 a day or $8.75 a week for the meals.

The weekday program is highly regulated, with particular attention paid to the various nutritious requirements, including diabetic, low sodium, low cholesterol or lactose intolerance. Each delivery contains up to one hot dinner and a cold meal.

Wierzbicki-Vaughn has been employed at the Milford Senior Center 20 years and has served 10 years with the Meals on Wheels program. She said many of her clients see few or no visitors, and the three dedicated employees offer an opportunity to share cheerful exchanges and to stay updated on clients’ health.

According to Wierzbicki-Vaughn, “We worry about our clients and try to provide them with a personal, caring affiliation.”

Jean Kaluzynski, of Milford Senior Center Social Services, also gets involved in the Meals on Wheels program. She refers clients to Wierzbicki-Vaughn. Clients must be 60 years of age or older, unable to cook for themselves, have no access to transportation, no family, friend or professional help available to prepare meals, and they must be homebound.

“This is a unique program, fortified by the staff’s caring, diligent, compassionate dedication to providing homebound residents with home delivered meals,” Turkington said.

Kathy Pontin, director of Family Services Woodfield, said providing services like Meals on Wheels isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s also cost efficient for a community.

“Brown University performed a study recently that validated the program: For the meals, the cost is about $2,000 per individual annually,” Pontin said. “But if you were to house an individual in a nursing home, the cost would reach $134,000 a year.”

Federal and state funding support the program, but there is always fear those dollars will dry up, Turkington said.

“Grants are highly competitive and very difficult,” she said, adding that donations are always welcome.

For information about the program, including eligibility, call 203-877-5131.