Delivering meals and more

Meals on Wheels provides nutritional and social sustenance to clients

Elaine Domeier (left) hugs Dale Witt (right) who delivers her meal for the day. Domeier was previously a Meals on Wheels driver for several years
after retiring and is now a recipient. Witt and his wife Mickey have volunteered as drivers for three years.

Elaine Domeier (left) hugs Dale Witt (right) who delivers her meal for the day. Domeier was previously a Meals on Wheels driver for several years after retiring and is now a recipient. Witt and his wife Mickey have volunteered as drivers for three years.

NEW ULM – Monday through Friday, Lutheran Social Services (LSS) operates the Senior Dining and Meals on Wheels program in Brown County.

The program operates out of New Ulm Community Center. Persons 60 or over and their spouses are eligible to participate. LSS has no set charge for the meal. A $4 donation is suggested but no age-eligible person is denied a meal because of inability to contribute. Some seniors will donate $5 for a meal to cover the seniors only able to pay $3.

The mission of LSS is to enable seniors to maintain their health and independence and provide opportunities to socialize and connect to others in the community. Sister Jesse Capparelli has served as program manager for nine years. She recently retired and working to help transition in her successor, Susan Dat.

“It’s about getting everything to flow right,” Capparelli said.

On a typical day, kitchen staff arrive around 6 a.m. to begin preparing the meals. Other volunteers and staff arrive at the community center around 7:30 a.m. The Meals on Wheels drivers arrive around 10:30 a.m. and receive their route list.

On Monday, five different routes are run for the Meals on Wheels program. Four of the routes deliver meals to individual residents throughout the community. One route delivers to businesses that later distribute the meals to larger living communities.

The drivers change from day to day. Some drivers only work two days a month and many are retired seniors themselves. Overall the program has roughly 100 volunteers but the organization is always looking for more drivers.

Mickey Witt has served as volunteer driver for the past three years. Her husband Dale fills in as a backup driver. “My mom used the service so it’s my way of giving back,” Mickey said. “And we might need the service before long,” Dale said.

On average the two volunteer twice a month. In the winter the Witts might drive three times a month to fill in for the snowbird volunteers. Typically, delivery drivers make between 18 and 25 stops a day. In the winter these numbers go up as many seniors are unable to travel after the snow falls. Mickey said the route only takes an hour to complete.

Drivers don’t deliver on the weekend or holidays but they do bring extra frozen food on Friday. The seniors will able to save the meal for the next day.

At the same time drivers are delivering meals to the Meals on Wheels participants the Community Center begins serving meals for the Senior Dining program. Lunch is served around noon, but many diners arrive around 11 a.m.

The number of seniors signed up for the program changes from day to day. Between 36 and 48 people show up each day, but special holidays or the weather impact turnout. The biggest influence on diners is the menu. Liver and turkey are known to draw a large crowd.

Seniors have a variety of reasons for taking advantage of the Senior Dining and Meals on Wheel. Some have disabilities that prevent them from preparing daily meals. In some cases a senior can prepare his or her own meal, but is unable to travel to the grocery store to pick up supplies. For others it is a chance to see friends.

Tom Haubrich said he attends senior dining nearly every day. Ever since his wife passed it was a chance to socialize.

Greg and Agnes Bushard have been attending senior dining for over 10 years. They originally started attending with Agnes’ mother but found they liked the experience.

“They’ve got good food,” Greg said. “And good portion control.”

Maintaining a nutritional balance is a goal of the program. Capparelli said “It’s not just about feeding. It’s about nutrition.” Keeping seniors healthy allows them to remain independent longer and take an active part in the community.

For many seniors the program is a necessity, but many are concerned funding might be cut if President Donald Trump’s proposed budget goes through.

The proposed budget cuts federal funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development which provides money to Meals on Wheels programs across the country.

In Brown County the Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging (MNRAAA) is one of the primary funding agency for Senior Dining and Meals on Wheels. Capparelli said MNRAAA does receive federal funding, which could be cut creating uncertainty for the program’s future.

“It does come to the forefront,” Capparelli said. “We see it as a vital program.”

Without the service some seniors could go without food. In addition, the program helps keep some people out of assisted living longer. Nursing homes and assisted living adds extra expenses for a family. The program even reduces the cost to taxpayers on Medical assistance-funded care. “Economically speaking it is a better option,” Capparelli said. “I think most families are happy with the service.”

Meals on Wheels providers are able to give feedback on the health of clients. If the client doesn’t answer the door to receive the meal the driver can call for a welfare check. Lives have been saved by the program.

Drivers sometimes spend a few minutes with those who order the meals. For some the driver is the only person they see on a typical day.

A lot of the drivers have worked for years and it becomes a social experience. Volunteer driver Phil Liesch has seen first hand the impact the program. “I wish people who want to cut this would ride with us and see the appreciation on (client)’s faces,” he said.

If funding through MNRAA is cut, Senior Dining and Meals on Wheel will need to rely on greater donations. The United Way provides some funding and 3M provides between $3,000 and $4,000 each year.

Meals are not only served in New Ulm, but all over Brown County. Meals are distributed to dining centers in Sleepy Eye and Springfield. Meals on Wheels drivers deliver in these communities as well as Comfrey.

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