Wednesday 3 September 2008

Meals on Wheels

Jack Hutton, an legend in Bala, gives Brian his list for the day. Jack is the president of the Meals on Wheels Project in Bala. Sue Gurr is the coordinator who manages the list and divides up the 3 delivery days offered (M/W/F) between various religious groups, legions, senior's groups and other volunteers, who feel good about contributing their time and energy to the project.

Jack says, "Meals on Wheels was started in Bala about 23 years ago by Linda and a girl friend. They were concerned about an older friend who obviously needed that assistance and approached the appropriate government agencies."

A Google search found 1,950,000 English pages on this topic. What a wonderful community endeavour in which people help other people. Meals on Wheels is a program by which volunteers organize, plan and coordinate the delivery of meals to those who would benefit from hot meals delivered to their homes. Some groups, like the one here and in Nepean, ON, charge for meals as part of their requirements. The Ministry, which funds these groups, have obtuse rules about its governance!

MoW, as we call it at home, is reported to have begun in Great Britain during the 2nd World War, and spread to many places. Many small and large communities provide this service from right across Canada, and in the U.S. and other countries, such as Australia. Meals on Wheels in the GTA, is a highly organized system. The referral process is easy.

The purpose is to provide a hot meal to adults living alone, or who are unable to make a hot, nourishing meal on a regular basis for themselves or their spouses. The meals are made in a variety of places, and the programs are delivered in a variety of means for a variety of reasons. Frail seniors, adults with physical disabilities, or elderly people convalescing from surgery/illness, can qualify for this program. Unfortunately, from my research on my book, and personal conversations, it seems as if many are reluctant to participate in the program.

This is a popular program much eschewed by those who purport not to need it. My parents, both fighting cancer, or or should say my mother, refused the program. I recall seeing her stand at the counter and leaning heavily on it, her hands shook fiercely as she determinedly made a sandwich for my father. She was in very bad condition but refused our help, as well as that of others. This was in April, and she died in mid-May. I patiently (OK not so much!) explained that she needed to save her energy for healing. There is much that caregivers receive as they try to give back to society. It took me weeks to make my point - but I made it eventually. Family members have to be strong in demanding that our seniors avail themselves of these programs. One of the signs of dementia is an empty refrigerator. A great predictor of ill-health is an empty refrigerator (Lancet 2000). In this study 31% of those with empty refrigerators were admitted to hospital in four weeks, compared with 8% of those with filled refrigerators. Some seniors cannot be bothered cooking, and some husbands of my parent's generation have never learned to cook. There are many reasons to participate in this program!

In Muskoka we have programs in Bala, and Bracebridge, but the Gravenhurst program had to stop due to the lack of volunteers in 2007. Many volunteers are suffering donor fatigue. It is said that 95% of the volunteering is undertaken by 5% of the population.

The risk to such programs, of course, is the rising cost of gas, and the fewer and fewer numbers of volunteers who can afford to spend the time, money and energy to look after these types of programs.
(Photos printed with permission from happy participants in Meals on Wheels!)


Anonymous said...

Hi Jennifer!

Great article on Meals on Wheels. It is a very worthwhile program and gives satisfaction to the volunteer as well as the recipient. Thanks for caring.


Anonymous said...

Great post Jennifer! I remember when that GR program stopped. I was sad to hear the news. Jack and Linda do a fantastic job and are really dedicated!! Unfortunately, not all MOW programs are created equal. We use one and it's from a LTC facility. Sometimes the food is o.k, but the majority of times it's not very nutritionally balanced. We are happy to support their efforts though...

Jenn Jilks said...

Thank you!
I agree, Anonymous, Jack & Linda are terrific! As are many who volunteer in our small town!

I think the problem with MoW programs is that they are run by individuals who already volunteer for many other groups. I believe it is the CCAC/LHINs who should be running it. It is a necessary service to help tide people over, or give them some independence.

It is depended upon by those who need it and dependent upon people who generously donate. This results in disparities in various communities. Our local restaurant, that make the meals, shuts down in winter. There is a wide variety of quality of meals across Ontario.

LTC facilities do not have a reputation for good food. (I know, I served Dad dinner every other day for months!) We had to fight them to have them give him an egg daily. He was palliative, and they were worried about cholesterol. Either the dietician didn't read his file...or they treat everyone the same way. THAT comes out in my book!