Written by Betsy Abraham Thursday, 18 April 2013 00:00
Carmela Inga was struggling with the responsibilities of caring for her disabled adult daughter and herself. She also was unable to drive, which made getting groceries difficult.
“It was hard for me to cook and I wasn’t eating the way I was supposed to,” Inga says. Two years ago, she reached out to Meals on Wheels. And she is so glad she did.
“Before I got it, I went a whole day without eating. It’s been a big help. It’s helped me get nutritious food and I feel better. And it tastes good,” Inga says.
Meals on Wheels has been delivering food to the Westbury, Carle Place, New Cassel and Valley Stream area for 24 years. Recipients are people ages 60 and over, who are homebound due to a physical or mental illness and find it difficult to shop and cook. Both hot and cold meals are delivered for free either once a week or daily, depending on the recipients’ schedule and preference. The meals are catered and menus are planned by a nutritionist, who includes plenty of healthy options. Fliers are also given out, with different nutritional tips.
But Meals on Wheels is about a lot more than dropping off some food.
“A lot of these people don’t get to see or talk to anyone all day. Our drivers will sit and talk with them, so they know they’re cared for. It’s not just about food, it’s about contact,” Regional Director Carol O’Neill said.
The program provides pet owners with pet food. The program also gives residents a cake and card on their birthday, and extra meals for holidays and weekends. Volunteers also visit and call residents throughout the day.
The volunteers and drivers also keep a watch on food recipients, reporting any physical or mental changes that might require further attention. If a resident doesn’t answer when the driver goes to drop off food, the driver will leave a note and report back to the program coordinator. If they don’t hear from the resident by the end of the day, Meals on Wheels will reach out to an emergency contact to make sure that the resident is okay.
Sam Hill has been a driver with Meals on Wheels for four years. He says that he got involved because he enjoys giving back.
“It’s a good thing,” Hill says. “When I get old, I hope somebody comes to me.”
Hill has formed a relationship with the people on his route, who see him as not just the man delivering their food, but as a friend.
“If you’re doing the right thing, people see that and they have no problem. I was told that we’re not supposed to get too comfortable with the clients, but I have a heart, I can’t help it,” Hill says with a smile. “I become attached to them. That’s the only rule I break.”
The organization is funded by the Nassau County Office for the Aging, which gets money from the state. Meals on Wheels has a contract to provide services, however, that doesn’t cover extra perks like birthday cakes and pet food (funds for those expenses come from donations from private business and corporations). And while they haven’t seen any cuts recently, they also haven’t seen any increases to keep up with rising costs.
“Everything is getting tight. We haven’t been cut, but the cost of gas and salaries are going up, so if you have the same money you had five years ago, it’s more difficult,” O’Neill said.
Meals on Wheels has provided more than a million meals and currently serves about 100 people in Westbury and surrounding areas. O’Neill says that one of the biggest challenges the program faces right now is getting the word out.
“It’s hard to get the word out to homebound people. They don’t go to senior centers and they’re not out among a lot of people so there’s no word of mouth,” O’Neill says.
Other than monetary donations, people can get involved with Meals on Wheels by simply spreading the word about the program and its benefits to anyone who could use them. They are also always looking for volunteers, who are available from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. To find out more, visit www.eacinc.org/meals-on-wheels-for-seniors.