Meals on Wheels provides meals and smiles to seniors in the area.
“I don’t believe I could make it without” Meals on Wheels, said senior Maggie Pratt.
Pratt said she is not able to cook. With the Meals on Wheels program operated through the Southern Area Agency on Aging, she gets a free lunch every weekday and is able to continue living at home by herself.
The Meals on Wheels program began offering meals to area seniors in the late 1970s, according to Teresa Fontaine, executive director of the Southern Area Agency on Aging. Since Oct. 1, a combination of volunteers and staff have delivered meals each weekday to 234 people in Henry County and Martinsville, Fontaine said.
The agency serves Martinsville, Danville and the counties of Henry, Patrick, Franklin and Pittsylvania. A total of 707 people have been served meals since Oct. 1 in the entire service area, Fontaine said.
The program enables many of those served to stay at their home and remain independent, Fontaine said. It also gives caregivers peace of mind knowing that the senior is receiving good nutrition when they can’t be there, she added.
On Thursday, lunch included chicken and dumplings, squash and a wheat roll. The food for local deliveries is purchased from the Henry Hotel Restaurant, according to Robert Hayzlett, a volunteer who delivers meals for the program.
Hayzlett said he believes he may be the only person some of the food recipients see all day. Sometimes, the seniors are waiting at the door of their home for their delivery.
Senior Ruby Brown said she appreciates both the food and the friendship.
“It means a whole lot” for the volunteers and staff to come each day, she said. “All of them (volunteers and staff) are real nice” and the food is tasty, too, she added.
“It just makes my day ... I just love to see somebody,” agreed Pratt. “They (volunteers and staff) are never in too much of a hurry to talk a little.”
“I appreciate anything that they bring,” she said.
Hayzlett, a disabled veteran, said he enjoys volunteering for the program because he gets to go out and meet nice people.
Also, he said, volunteering is better than sitting at home watching television, which he doesn’t want to do.
“I just do it to help out,” Hayzlett said, adding that he also volunteers at the agency as a Medicare Part D insurance counselor and handles veteran claims.
If it wasn’t for Meals on Wheels bringing her lunch, Mildred Gears said that she probably would skip lunch because she isn’t able to fix it herself.
Lawrence Henry said the program saves him money and saves him from cooking, he said.
The increase in the number of elderly area residents is reflected in growing demand for the program. Fontaine said there are about 80 people on a waiting list for Meals on Wheels, which is a “strong indication of the demand for this service.”
The number of people being served has increased over the past two years. Two years ago, 810 total clients were served for the year (Oct. 1-Sept. 30) and last year, 858 people were served. Fontaine feels that the final numbers this year will be near the same amount as last year, she said.
The cost to run the program for this year was budgeted for $816,838. The money comes from federal, state and local funds as well as contributions, according to Fontaine.
The program needs more funds to operate so the agency can provide for those on the waiting list, Fontaine said. The current amount of funding will allow it to continue at normal service levels next year, she added.
To be eligible to receive a meal, recipients must be 60 or older and homebound with no one else available who can prepare them a meal during the day, Fontaine said.
The agency also delivers frozen meals once a week and boxed meals once a month to those who live in more rural areas, Fontaine added.
The Pittsylvania County Community Action Agency and Support to Eliminate Poverty (STEP) helps with the meal delivery and daily operations of the program, Fontaine said.