Round and Round- Meal on Wheels: nearly 25,000 dishes a year
Roll time back 47 years, and duck inside the basement of St. Mary School. It’s 1972, and there are three women, fueled with a $500 grant, preparing meals for those in need. Now roll forward to 2019 and a look at Meals on Wheels––a nonprofit that prepares and delivers food to community members in various types of need—physical, financial, and more.
Today Meals on Wheels operates in a fully functioning commercial kitchen at Ballard Green. With more than 140 volunteers and five culinary-trained employees, many hours are spent preparing and delivering some 24,000 homemade meals each year—more than most restaurants in town.
Volunteers and employees spend three mornings a week preparing, organizing, and packing meals into coolers, which are then delivered to clients’ homes. “We don’t just provide the meals,” says board chair Dean Miller. “The delivery aspect is an opportunity for our drivers to check on clients to see how they’re doing. It allows people who don’t have a chance to leave their home often to still connect with the community.”
A typical menu consists of a sandwich, salad, and fruit for lunch; and a hot entrée, vegetable, roll, and dessert for dinner. Complimentary meals are also provided on birthdays and major holidays. The ingredients used to prepare meals are always fresh and often purchased at Ridgefield’s favorite local spots—produce from Ridgefield Organics, bread from Ross Bread + Coffee, and cupcakes from The Cake Box.
The meal fees—$2 for lunch and $4 for dinner—are intentionally set at an affordable price to cater to clients living on a fixed income. However, Meals on Wheels has never turned anyone away anyone for a financial hardship, and will often discount or even wave fees in these situations.
While meals are priced at $6 per day, it costs the organization $16 per day to feed a single client. To maintain operation, Meals on Wheels relies on donations from community members to support a $150,000 annual budget. Says Miller: Approximately 70 percent of the operating expenses are funded through donations from individuals, businesses, civic organizations, and foundations.
Unlike neighboring food operations, Miller explains that Meals on Wheels is independently run and only serves clients who live within town limits. Since it does not receive any federal or state funding, it isn’t required to abide by restrictions regarding quotas, age, or income. “We tailor our program to meet the needs of anyone in Ridgefield who can’t prepare meals for themselves, whether it’s short or long term,” he says. “The criteria a client must meet is extremely attainable because we’re very open in terms of who we’ll serve meals to.”
Miller recalled a former client who temporarily used the Meals on Wheels service for six weeks while recovering from a foot surgery. “Not having to worry about shopping and cooking made a big difference in her recovery, and she loved the food,” he says.
Meals on Wheels works with Ridgefield Visiting Nurse Association dietician Meg Whitbeck, who reviews and structures a nutritional menu geared toward senior citizens, which make up the majority of clients. Also, Whitbeck assists with meals for particular clients who may have food allergies or dietary restrictions.
Meals on Wheels works very closely with nonprofit organizations such as the RVNA, Rides for Ridgefield, and the Department of Social Services because they serve many of the same community members. Miller mentioned another client who is homebound due to medical issues and has been receiving meals for years. Meals on Wheels and the RVNA provide enough support for her to remain living in her home independently.
“There’s a great network of organizations in town that help people who are either senior citizens or homebound, and we’re proud to be a part of that team,” he says.
Meals on Wheels has grown tremendously and expects to prepare and deliver a record-setting amount of 28,000 meals by the end of 2019.