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Meals on Wheels’ Rocks the Farm benefits senior nutrition

Jun 3rd, 2018 | Category: Community

Home-delivered meals, clients increasing

 Photo by Mary Vermillion

For Meals and Wheels and More, meeting the nutritional needs of seniors is serious business. But, the organization’s July 28 Meals on Wheels Rocks the Farm event at Bellingham Country Gardens is pure fun.

More than 200 people attended last year’s inaugural farm event, which was the brainchild of Bellingham Country Gardens owner and Meals on Wheels volunteer driver Sam Grubbs. Meals on Wheels and More cooks prepare the barbecue dinner, which features local produce, including berries from Grubbs’ farm. For $30 – buy tickets in advance to save $5 – guests set up lawn chairs or throw blankets on the grass then queue up for the meal served by volunteers and staff.  Meals on Wheels and More Director Julie Meyers says this year they’d love the dinner to feature more local produce, bread, and pork or chicken.

Sam Grubbs, owner of Bellingham Country Gardens, also volunteers for Meals on Wheels. PHOTO COURTESY OF JULIE MEYERS/MEALS ON WHEELS

Sam Grubbs, owner of Bellingham Country Gardens, also volunteers for Meals on Wheels. PHOTO COURTESY OF JULIE MEYERS/MEALS ON WHEELS

“We need partners to make that happen,” she said, adding farmers and producers who are interested in supporting the event with food or raffle donations are welcome to contact her.

While the fundraiser is a fun night out, the need for financial support and volunteers is critical. A program of the Whatcom Council on Aging, Meals on Wheels and More is doing what it can to address the need.

Annually, the non-profit organization’s 18 staff members – a combination of full-time and part-time workers – and volunteers prepare and serve 99,000 nutritious, hot community meals for people who are 60 and older at nine locations throughout Whatcom County and three in San Juan County. On average, 125 people a day attend the community meal that is served at noon Monday-Friday at the Bellingham Senior Center.

Staff and 100-plus volunteers deliver another 85,000 meals to 500-plus home-bound clients who need help with shopping and cooking. From 2014 to 2017, the number of home delivery clients increased 42 percent. This year, requests for home-delivered meals are already up 15 percent.

For home delivery, recipients must be 60 or older, homebound, and unable to shop for or prepare healthy meals for themselves. Spouses/partners, disabled dependents, and unpaid caregivers of participants are also eligible. Clients receive seven meals per week. Most of the nutritionally balanced, frozen home-delivered meals are prepared by a small company south of Seattle. Each comes with reduced fat milk and whole grain bread.

Thanks to a grant from the Whatcom Community Foundation’s Sustainable Whatcom Fund, Meals on Wheels and More cooks include local ingredients as often as they are able. Sustainable Connections’ Harvest of the Month program inspires menus.

For both the community meals and home delivery, payment is on a donation basis with a suggested fee of $3 to $5. But no one is turned away if they are unable to pay. Meyers say 80 percent of those served have low monthly incomes, but nutritional hardship – not income level – determines eligibility.

Client surveys reveal need and gratitude; Meyers has a folder full of handwritten thank you notes. Recent results show 40 percent of program clients feel some degree of food insecurity in the form of access or ability to pay for or prepare a nutritious meal. “Food insecurity increases chronic health conditions,” Meyers said, who is a registered dietitian. “It’s disheartening to read the surveys and to understand the need. We don’t have the capacity to provide more than a meal a day, and it’s only going to get worse. We’ll just keep doing what we can.”

The demand is driven by a combination of factors: local population growth, an increased awareness of the service, aging baby boomers, and the Affordable Health Care Act. “There’s a focus on keeping people healthy,” Meyers explained. “We receive many referrals from discharge staff at local hospitals.”

Awareness is key. “I think most people know there’s an issue with kids’ nutrition,” she said. “It’s extremely important that people also think about seniors. If you see an overweight senior, keep in mind they may be subsisting on cereal and ramen. They could be malnourished. You can be food insecure and still be overweight.”

Meyers points out that large areas of Whatcom and San Juan counties are not served by grocery stores. “In remote areas, it’s great if neighbors can check in with seniors to be sure they are getting the food they need,” she said. “It’s important that we not let seniors fall through the cracks.”

Meals on Wheels Rocks the Farm is 4-7 p.m. Saturday, July 28 at Bellingham Country Gardens, 2838 E. Kelly Road, bellinghamcountrygardens.com. Advance tickets are $25 and available at brownpapertickets.com, the Bellingham Senior Activity Center and Bellingham Country Gardens. Or pay $30 at the gate. Free for kids 12 and younger. The ticket price includes barbecue and live music by The Dagwoods. Beer and wine are available for purchase. Bring lawn chairs or blankets. For information on how to donate produce, bread, pork or chicken, or raffle items, contact Meals on Wheels and More Director Julie Meyers, 360.733.4030, ext. 1025, jmeyers@wccoa.org. 

To help: Partially funded by government grants, Meals on Wheels and More also needs community support. To learn more, to volunteer or to donate, contact Meals on Wheels and More, 315 Halleck Street, Bellingham, WA  98225, 360.733.4030. Find locations and times of community meals at wccoa.org. To enroll in the home delivery program, call 360-746-6480.

 

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