LOGAN — Nearly 300 seniors living in Athens and Hocking counties participate in a program that provides them with free food each week: Meals on Wheels.
The Meals on Wheels program celebrated its 50th anniversary last March. According to an earlier report by Logan Daily News, on March 22, 1972, President Richard Nixon signed a bill to amend the Senior Citizens Act of 1965 and establish a National Nutrition Program for housebound seniors 60 and older. .
According to 2019 data from Feeding America, a national network of nonprofit food banks, 14.6% of Hocking County residents are “food insecure,” which is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “an economic and social condition at the household level of low or uncertain”. access to adequate food.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 19.5% of Hocking County residents (28,097 total) are over the age of 65. Additionally, 14.7% of the county’s population are people living in poverty.
In Hocking County, Meals on Wheels is a Southeast Ohio Foodbank & Regional Kitchen program, operated by Hocking Athens Perry Community Action, aka HAPCAP.
Paul Mash of Logan has been a meals-on-wheels driver for three years. He loves his job and has built relationships with many of his clients, to whom he not only delivers meals, but also checks. Rain or shine, Meals on Wheels is on the road.
On an overcast March day, the Mash route starts around 9am and ends in the afternoon. From Logan to Rockbridge, in a Southeast Ohio Food Bank van, he makes stops throughout Hocking County delivering food to customers for the week – five on delivery, one hot and four frozen.
“Some of them (customers) — yes, it’s strictly for meals, but I think some people get it more for the business,” Mash said.
According to mealonwheelsamerica.org, one in four seniors lives alone and one in four seniors feels lonely; Nationally, nearly 7.4 million seniors have an income below the poverty line.
Many of his customers are waiting at the door for their meals (and Mash), waiting for the usual delivery. Others take a few minutes to make their way to the door, while Mash waits patiently with a smile to hand over their brown bags full of fresh food.
Samuel Sloan, of Logan, said his daughter referred him to Meals on Wheels. He has been receiving them for a year now, he estimated. The program appealed to him because of the fresh, hot meals, he said.
Another Logan resident, Karen Cupp, said she has also been receiving Meals on Wheels for about a year.
“Oh, I love that,” Cupp said. “I love food and convenience. We don’t eat as much as we used to, so (those) make it really, really good.
Cupp said she wasn’t sure how she signed up; the meals “came to my door” one day. Like Sloan, she assumes that a family member signed her up for the service. One of her favorite foods is Smucker’s Encrustable Peanut Butter Sandwich, something she had never eaten before the program.
Mash originally worked in the kitchen, where Meals on Wheels food is prepared. Now a driver, he loves his job and finds his interaction with customers fulfilling.
Over the years, he has witnessed the change in schedule, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, which has taken its toll on Meals on Wheels clients.
From customers who survived the disease to those who still fear it, COVID has left its mark on the local elderly population – one of the populations most vulnerable to the virus. Some customers have remained very cautious, Mash said, and still prefer contactless delivery. Mash, as needed, wears a mask at each household.
Fortunately, during COVID, meals-on-wheels service has expanded, allowing the program to feed more people, explained Naomi Squires, food services coordinator for the Southeast Ohio Food Bank and the regional cuisine.
“Throughout the pandemic, we were able to have people on our waitlist and provide them with meals for a little while,” Squires said.
However, Mash faced some tough days. A few months ago, he found a client, a 90-year-old man from Rockbridge, who died.
Mash said finding a dead customer isn’t entirely unexpected, although still saddening and shocking. After checking his client’s vital signs, Mash alerted his family elsewhere on the property.
“It was just heartbreak,” Mash said.
Although grim, the mortality is something the now-deceased man (and other clients) accepted, and even joked about, Mash explained. After becoming a widower, the client had told Mash that he was praying that “the Lord would take him (him)”.
He also told Mash, “One of these days you’ll find me here,” to which Mash replied, “I don’t really want to talk about it,” he said.
“It was a bit bittersweet, because he missed his wife because she passed away,” Mash said.
Elsewhere in Rockbridge, on a secluded and quiet country road, Roger Hunter, another Meals on Wheels customer, has also been getting meals for about a year now, he said. However, he had been on the program’s waiting list for about two years.
“It’s good; very good. I love it,” Hunter said. “I kinda depend on it.” Some days delivery drivers are “the only people I can talk to,” Hunter said. — apart from his cat, he joked.
Pets can be beneficial for older people, especially those who may be isolated. Mash himself admits it: he keeps dog treats in the delivery truck for his customers’ furry friends. The Meals on Wheels program also delivers pet supplies to its customers monthly, thanks to donations, according to the HAPCAP website.
Of the 20 or so Meals on Wheels recipients The Logan Daily News interviewed, most agreed the food was generally good, however, some customers say they are “special”. The program adapts to vegetarian diets and offers substitutes for certain foods.
Congregate dining is also available in Hocking County at the Scenic Hills Senior Center, 187 S. Spring St., from 11:00 a.m. to noon weekdays. Anyone over the age of 60 and their spouse or caregiver can eat for free. Those under 60 can book a meal and join their senior friends for $5. Meals must be reserved by 8 a.m. on the day of dinner by calling 740-385-6813 ext. 2217.