Growing older is inescapable and with age, individuals tend to return to childhood in a way. After years of being self-sufficient, suddenly assistance is necessary.
There are programs throughout Tulsa that feed the hungry and assist those in need, but Meals on Wheels not only provides the meal but they bring it to the doorstep of those who are unable to retrieve it themselves.
With an aging population and the hunger rate growing, the food isn't the only problem, but finding a way to distribute the food to those who can't drive to their local pantry is where Meals on Wheels fills a need.
"We deliver about 1000 meals a day, not only to Tulsa but also Jenks, Broken Arrow, Glenpool and Owasso," said Stacie Wilson, director of development and community relations for Meals on Wheels. "Our volunteers drive the equivalent of 7.5 times around the world each year. They really are the heart of the organization."
With several routes and nearly 2500 volunteers packaging, driving and knocking on doors, Tulsa's Wheels program is reaching more individuals daily. And yet, 2007 Community Service Council statistics show there are more than 26,000 individuals, 65 and older, who are considered disabled and live alone in the Tulsa area. Meals on Wheels of Metro Tulsa manages to reach about 1,000 of them.
"The hardest group of people to get to take emergency food are seniors," said Sara Waggoner, executive director of the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma. "They've worked all their lives and been able to take care of themselves or their family and all of a sudden, their retirement or Social Security check isn't going as far as it used to. So they don't want to not pay their rent or mortgage and they're having to choose between medicine and food, so they'll opt out of eating."
Meals on Wheels is searching for opportunities to take care of these individuals and families.
"We are not a fee-for-service organization. Some donate if they can," said Wilson. "Some do $1 or a quarter and some can't do any. We don't want them to have to choose food. The whole mission of our organization is make sure they have a hot nutritious meal."
Behind some doors, volunteers find fragile and isolated individuals. Meals on Wheels provides much more than a hot meal. For many of the recipients, the volunteers provide much-needed human contact and friendship.
Sara Hall, a Meals on Wheels client, answers her door in anticipation of houseguests more than food. While the food is a much-appreciated bonus and a vital part of her livelihood, her eyes well up at the opportunity to invite someone in, even if it is only for a moment.
Jim Dalby, who is every bit of 80, faithfully drives his route each week, just as he's done for the past 25 years.
Sure, he hands off the food or maybe he even places it on the kitchen table, but then he takes a moment to stop, listen and give a little hug.
"I wouldn't know what to do without Meals on Wheels," said recipient, Louise White. "Some days I feel like going in the kitchen but most days I don't. Sometimes I forget the day but then Jim comes and he sure does help me."
For some recipients, the realities of immortality weigh heavily but Meals on Wheels allows a moment of joy and brief relationship each time the meals are delivered.
It is common for individuals who live alone and are homebound to own pets to fill the need of companionship. Sometimes, these pets can even provide a reason for living.
To alleviate the burden of feeding these four-legged companions, Meals on Wheels also provides a Meals 4 Paws Stars program.
"We noticed that many Meals on Wheels clients have felt a need to share their meals with their animals because they are unable to provide appropriate pet food," said Wilson.
By delivering pet food, the organization allows clients to take care of their animals without forfeiting essentials for themselves.
For many, it is not even a matter of age but simply a matter of immobility. Along any given route, it is common to find 20-somethings mixed in with the 85 and 90-year-old residents.
"Many homebound in the Tulsa area desperately need this vital service and it is our mission to ensure that no homebound senior goes hungry," said Dan Robovsky, executive director of Meals on Wheels of Metro Tulsa. "We know that there are probably many people who need our service but may not be aware of its availability. Meals on Wheels wants to get the word out: If you are homebound or know someone who is, please contact us to see if we can help."
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