By Lisa Carolin
Every weekday, employees and volunteers combine their efforts so that senior citizens who live in the Chelsea area can receive meals.
The meals range from lunches prepared for members of the Chelsea Senior Center to meals delivered to people’s homes as part of the Meals on Wheels program.
Last year, Chelsea Meals on Wheels served 140 homebound clients. Currently 60 clients in Chelsea and 11 clients in Manchester receive Meals on Wheels.
“Meals on wheels supports seniors, 60 and older, who live in Washtenaw County and are homebound,” said Jennifer Smith, Chelsea Senior Center program manager, who coordinates the administrative aspects of the program.
“Homebound means that they do not drive so they are unable to get to the grocery store or to come in to the center for daily Senior Cafe lunches,” she said, adding, “People choose Meals on Wheels for a variety of reasons including recuperating from surgery or illness.”
Mary Erskine is the Senior Nutrition Program site coordinator, and she’s worked with Meals on Wheels for more than 30 years. She specifically coordinates kitchen volunteers and Meals on Wheels drivers.
“We use an average of 20 kitchen volunteers each week and 25 volunteer drivers each week,” said Smith. “Typical kitchen volunteer duties include washing fruit; packaging individual portions of fruit, rolls, cold salads, and desserts; portioning hot foods into compartmentalized containers, sealing, labeling, and placing them into insulated hot bags by delivery route. These volunteers also set the tables for our Senior Cafe lunch each day.”
The average route takes one hour, with longer times for more rural routes and those in Manchester. Volunteer drivers must pass a background check processed by Washtenaw County.
Chelsea resident Ann Feeney began volunteering for the Senior Nutrition Program more than 30 years ago.
“I began as a driver for the program and it was a good way to learn the geography of the area,” said Feeney. “The program was started by Church Women United, an ecumenical group that got together when they realized the need. I’ve met a lot of really interesting people over the years and have enjoyed finding the connections.”
Bev Royal has been volunteering with Meals on Wheels for 13 years in both Chelsea and Ann Arbor.
“I feel it is important to give back to the community,” said Royal. “This is a great opportunity to help your neighbors, especially those who are homebound. At the Chelsea Meals on Wheels, I help out in the kitchen getting the hot meals dished, and the fruits, breads and desserts washed and bagged for our seniors. My unofficial title is ‘bag lady’ as I organize the lunch bags for our Manchester folks and our seniors who also need meals over the weekend.”
Smith says the Senior Nutrition Programs are supported by 5,000 volunteer hours every year, which means they are always looking for volunteers.
To register, clients can call the Chelsea Senior Center at 734-475-9242 Monday-Friday, 9 a.m-4 p.m. Seniors can make reservations 24 hours in advance at that same number for the Senior Cafe and are asked for a donation of $3.
The Chelsea Senior Center recently received grant funding to replace the commercial refrigerator and freezer needed to support the Senior Nutrition Program, and all proceeds from the upcoming Festival of Tables event will support the Senior Nutrition Programs.
Smith said, “The importance of these senior meals is not just nutrition; socialization has been shown to be a significant determinant of health and wellness for seniors. For rural homebound seniors, receiving a daily wellness check through Meals on Wheels is as equally important as receiving the hot meal delivered to their doorstep.”