For 18 years now, the Meals on Wheels Association of America has, through the Chetco Activity Center, served nutritious meals to Brookings-Harbor residents that are no longer able to cook for themselves.
Currently, the organization serves more than 50 meals a day, every Monday through Friday, to grateful residents who rely on the service as not just a source of food, but for friendship as well.
"I enjoy it. The fact that I have to eat the meals is secondary. I really enjoy the people that come in and drop off the meals," said Fred Yates of Harbor, who has been relying on Meals on Wheels to provide his daily nutrition for the past five years. "I don't get out, you see, so it's really beneficial. It's one of the things, along with my caregivers, that allows me to stay at home instead of being in a nursing home."
Yates explains that over time he has cultivated friendships with the delivery drivers at Meals on Wheels and looks forward to chatting with them when they come to drop off his meal.
"I like that, you bet. I tell my caregiver not to pick up the meals because I enjoy talking with my friends. I miss some of the people that used to come because they were my good friends," he said.
Beginning just after 10 a.m. every weekday morning, drivers load meals prepared by Meals on Wheels Food Program Manager Eleanor Cook into vehicles and set out on one of two daily routes through the area.
Like nearly all of the Meals on Wheels staff, the drivers are volunteers who partake in the program as a way to give back to the community.
"We provide nutritional meals for them that helps them get through their days a little better," said Jean Williams, who has been delivering meals for the past seven years.
"I always tell my drivers it's always good to greet them, talk with them, to make sure they are OK," added coordinator Jean Westfall.
Westfall explains that ,in addition to dropping off meals, drivers have a responsibility to recognize any problems and report to medical officials if there is anything wrong. Enjoying conversations with their recipients is a by-product of the service. Several patrons stated that, while they enjoy the meals, the conversations they have with the drivers are just as beneficial to their well being.
"(Meals on Wheels) is a blessing. I was down low before I started with Meal on Wheels and I came right out of it because I was eating right," admitted Jackie Bartholomew of Harbor. "You're a lot happier when you are satisfied with good meals and you're healthier. Even the doctor comes and visits me and says, "I can't believe it! You look so healthy." I've been healthy my whole life except for having four kids," she joked. "I've made a lot of friends with the people that bring me my meals. They always like to see me and they are all very friendly."
Sharon Smith of Harbor divulges that Meals on Wheels has changed her life for the better.
"It saved my life and taught me to eat vegetables at this late stage of my life," she said. "I enjoy the meals. I used to eat junk food because I could no longer prepare a meal for myself. I wasn't eating right and I was going downhill. I started eating better with Meals on Wheels."
Like several other meal recipients, Smith also states the benefits of the service go far beyond nutrition.
"It's not just about the meals, it's about the smile on the other end of them. My grandson was over here the other day and he said, "Grandma I can get the meal for you and I told him, "I want to get the meals. I enjoy getting them."
Meals on Wheels provides at least 1,115 balanced meals each month to the citizens of Brookings-Harbor. Thirty-four volunteer drivers deliver hot meals to approximately 50 recipients over two routes that travel to the Brookings-Harbor area. The $6.50 cost per meal is funded by grants from the Area Agency on Aging and donations from the public, including the recipients themselves. The only requirements needed to qualify for the Meals on Wheels program is that recipients be older than 60 and unable to drive a motor vehicle.
Over the past year, Meals on Wheels has delivered an astounding 12,250 meals in the Brookings-Harbor area.
"Sometimes I'm in the back room and they sneak in," jokes Yates. "If I'm not available they will do what they need to do and get me the food. They are wonderful meals with fruits and vegetables, salads and desserts," said Yates. When asked if dessert was his favorite part of the meals, he laughed and simply said, "Oh yeah. You bet."
For more information on the Brookings-Harbor Meals on Wheels program, contact 541-469-6822 or email Mail@ChetcoAC.org.