Senior sustenance means more than a meal

Senior sustenance means more than a meal

March 21st, 2012 by Mike O'Neal in Catoosa

Martha Lewis loads an insulated case filled with meals for delivery on a route that covers more than 60 miles in the Ringgold, Graysville and Chickamauga areas. Lewis is the original driver for the Catoosa County Meals on Wheels program. She worked at the courthouse and was "loaned" to the program where, using a car borrowed from the county commissioner, she delivered about 15 meals in and around Ringgold. Photo by Mike O'Neal

Martha Lewis loads an insulated case filled with...

For more than three decades, Meals on Wheels has never strayed from its mission of making certain no senior living in Catoosa County goes hungry.

But whether today, when more than 90 meals are delivered each weekday, or in its earliest years when fewer than 17 clients were served, this program has always been as much about fellowship as about food.

"People are definitely ready for us," said Shelia Anderson, a Meals on Wheels driver who delivers meals to 31 individuals in the Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe area. "I have one little lady that has everything laid out on her table and is ready to eat when I arrive."

And it is not only shut-ins that partake of this daily offering.

While nearly 100 have meals delivered each day, 40-50 dine at the Benton Place Campus.

Marcia Tucker, manager of the nutrition program based in the Catoosa Senior Center on the Benton Place Campus, said it is only a lack of funding that restricts the number of home-delivered meals.

"We can serve more if they can come to the center," Tucker said. "Several use Trans-Aid [the county's free transportation service] to visit every day."

The senior nutrition program that includes home-delivered Meals On Wheels, is a partnership between individuals, volunteers, Coosa Valley Regional Services and Development Corp., Area Agency on Aging of Northwest Georgia, federal, state and county governments.

This program that involves a lot of partners makes a lot of positive impact on many lives.

"It is rewarding to see seniors come in and feel like they belong somewhere," said Stacey Holbrook, executive director of Coosa Valley RSDC.

She served as nutrition site director in Rockmart for a dozen years before assuming her current position in October 2011, and said she loved the daily contact with the these seniors who were more like aunts, uncles, parents or grandparents than clients.

"I loved it," she said. "The hardest part [of my new job] was leaving them. They were like my family."

And just as the senior centers provide more than a meal, drivers do more than deliver food. They keeps tabs on the well-being of and provide a daily source of social contact for those who otherwise would spend their days alone.

How many are served?

*Currently served by Meals on Wheels: 91

*Seniors 60 or older on the waiting list: 61

*Meals served daily at the nutrition center dining room: 40-50

-Source: Coosa Valley RSDC

Holbrook said some see Meals on Wheels as providing both the bread of life and life itself.

"Over the years, several-over have told me the program saved their lives, it gave them a meaning to live," she said.

Statistics provided by the Georgia Department of Community Health estimate that participating in the nutrition program helps seniors continue living at home for about three and a half years longer than otherwise.

That adds up to a lot of savings, since the Meals on Wheels cost per person is about $1,500 a year compared to a nursing home's annual cost of about $26,552.

"This offers them freedom," Holbrook said.