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Chatfield hopes to roll out more Meals on Wheels

December 9, 2018 GMT

CHATFIELD — It’s just after noon, and a knock on Kathryn Wright-Lorch’s Lakewood Senior Housing apartment door means her daily Meals on Wheels delivery has arrived.

Meals on Wheels delivers hot, nutritious meals to homes of residents who are not able to prepare or easily access healthy food.

“The benefit for me is that I can’t cook much,” Wright-Lorch said. “I get roast meat, vegetables and dessert every day. They really spoil me.”

The 68-year-old shut-in used to eat food from cans warmed up in the microwave since she has trouble accessing the oven, cooking often and getting out to get groceries. But her social worker coordinated with Meals on Wheels to deliver meals — which can feature spaghetti, tater tot hotdish, mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh fruit, salad, soup, desserts and more — to Wright-Lorch in her Chatfield apartment.

While she lives in a town of 2,700, she’s one of less than five clients who take advantage of the program; There were only two deliveries Monday. In comparison, St. Charles delivers to 30-40 clients, Rushford has 20-25, and Lanesboro, with a population of 732, serves 15-20.

If Chatfield’s program were to stop, Wright-Lorch said she would be stuck.

“It would be horrible! I’d go so hungry, I’d be skin and bones,” she said. “I really need the meal.”

Semcac senior nutrition program coordinator Carolyn Freese said the meals are meant to support people exactly like Wright-Lorch. But within the last year, Chatfield’s number of clients has dropped more than 75 percent.

“It happened really quickly. They were a pretty solid program, but it’s just been plummeting,” Freese said. “I want to revive it if at all possible, and I think some of it is that people just aren’t aware that the program exists. We basically rely on word-of-mouth.”

According to Freese, the Meals on Wheels program as a whole delivers about 80,000 meals a year to 660 different clients in eight southeastern Minnesota counties. Chatfield averaged about six meals a day in September, with 110 meals delivered that month.

“I wouldn’t be surprised for a town like Chatfield to have 20-25 meals going out, because they’re that large of a community,” she said. “I think some of it is some people don’t understand the program.”

Meals on Wheels is open to anyone 60 and older who needs a meal delivered to their home. While specific qualifications can vary by location, Chatfield’s services, supported by the Older Americans Act, is not finance-based or only for low-income individuals. Clients have the opportunity to donate for their meals, but no one is denied due to an inability to pay. The meals are delivered Monday through Friday, with extra meals provided for the weekends if requested. Under certain circumstances, the service also provides meals for people with disabilities or recovering from illness and those discharging from a hospital or care center.

Freese said the program can’t be adequately used if people simply don’t know about it.

“I think some of it deals with families being farther away from their loved ones, so they’re not as prone to see what’s going on with Mom and Dad as they used to be able to,” Freese said. “Because they used to live in the community, they knew what services were available, where I don’t think that’s the case anymore. When our people deliver that meal, they make sure that your loved one is safe in their home and they’re getting a hot meal. I think it’s just a really good pairing — it keeps them in their homes, and that’s where they want to be and where they’re most happy.”

While the number of clients in Chatfield is low, Freese said they have enough volunteers to serve many, many more.

“We figure (Meals on Wheels) has more than 1,200 volunteers who help, and they probably donate more than 51,000 hours in a year,” she said. “We have wonderful people willing to deliver the meals in Chatfield, but we can always use more. The more hands, the less the load. If we did not have an army of volunteers, there would be no Meals on Wheels program in any of our counties.”

Volunteers such as Sandy Gathje, who delivered to Wright-Lorch on Monday, are often coordinated through local churches. Gathje said she got involved through her ministry at Calvary Baptist Church, which has been involved in Meals on Wheels for several years. She thinks the program is important for the community and hopes it will continue and grow.

“If we were older and can’t get around, it would be nice to have someone pop in, deliver a meal and see how we’re doing,” Gathje said.