Driving Change

Meals on Wheels of Hendricks County Turns 50

Writer / Melissa Gibson
Photography Provided

Meals on Wheels of Hendricks County (MOW) will celebrate 50 years in 2023.Meals on Wheels of Hendricks County

Since 1973, the Hendricks County chapter of MOW has been serving nutritious, hot meals to those in the county in need of a little extra assistance.

Chances are, you’ve heard of the organization and you know they deliver food. However, the service provided is so much more.

What began as three routes, delivering meals to 10 residents in the early 1970s, has become a system of 11 routes serving 140 residents at a minimum.

“Our primary mission is to deliver hot and nutritious meals to clients throughout Hendricks County,” says Sabrina Cordon, executive director. “However, many people think of us as serving seniors and don’t realize we also serve clients with disabilities, those who are homebound, and those with chronic illness.”

In addition to hot meals, volunteers also provide wellness checks and human connection.

Tom Stempson is vice president for the MOW board and has volunteered for more than four years.

“After retirement, my wife began volunteering and she got me into it,” he says. “I thought it was just great. I began to pick routes and we’d go together. I liked a couple of things. I really like to drive and the routes would take me to places in the county I didn’t even know existed. Secondly, I’d watch as this person struggled to get to the door to pick up their food. You help them out, find out what their needs are, and it occurs to you that this is probably the only human contact these folks have had all day.”

Cordon has watched as volunteers have formed friendships with their clients, exchanged numbers and checked in with each other.

“Many of our volunteers have been driving for years and our clients are so appreciative, and to see someone come to their door with a smile really brightens their day,” Cordon says. “Tom always says, ‘It’s impossible to be in a bad mood when delivering for Meals on Wheels.’”

In the midst of the pandemic, MOW saw a huge need and answered the call.

“2022 was a record year for us,” Cordon says. “We served 32,500 meals to just under 300 clients and we have the capacity to accept new clients today.”

The meals are prepared by Hendricks Regional Health, and overseen by the nutrition and dietician department.

The cost is minimal, paid for by funding through CICOA, Medicaid, or the client if they don’t qualify.

“We’re not making a profit,” Cordon says. “The meal costs $7.75 and we charge $5.50, covering some of the cost with grants and donations. Like any nonprofit, we’re always looking for new donors and support.”

Meals on Wheels of Hendricks CountyIn addition to funds and delivering food, MOW offers several other ways the community can help.

The nonprofit partners with Misty Eyes Animal Center to provide pet food for clients with four-legged friends. Donations to Misty Eyes furthers that mission.

Birthday bags are assembled to celebrate with each client. They include a handwritten birthday card and a few personalized items. MOW collects small notebooks, chapstick, travel-sized lotions, pens, puzzle books, magnets and more, to add to the birthday gift.

Along with the hot meal that is delivered, clients receive a cold side and beverage packaged in a lunch bag.

“We have school groups and service groups that decorate brown paper lunch sacks for the holidays or a client’s birthday,” Cordon says. “It’s just another nice thing that brightens their day. We also offer opportunities with our pen-pal program and connection calls – simply checking in with clients to see how things are going.”

The checking in provides relationship building between volunteers and clients, but also security for family members who may be working full time or not live locally. It’s a relief to those caring for an elderly loved one or someone in need that MOW is there to assist.

“Before I joined the board, I was told we were looking for people with various backgrounds and experiences to join,” Stempson says. “I changed that and said we want to make a policy that says to be on the board, you have to drive for three months before being considered. You need to understand what this is and what it takes. I don’t want to know where your head is, I want to know where your heart is.”

As more and more of the aging population chooses to live independently longer and stay at home, services like MOW are becoming more prevalent and needed within the community.

Stempson says for some, there’s a bit of a stigma or resistance when it comes to asking for help.

“It’s difficult to admit when you need help, but I’m surprised we don’t have more clients because we could do more,” Stempson says. “What I’ve found is once you give it a try, you want to stay.”

It’s also a goal of the organization to remind the community that they are still here and still working hard.

In the past few years, Cordon has worked to increase outreach and fundraising efforts, attending public events in hopes of reaching a neighbor or family friend who may benefit from the service.

Stempson says MOW will set up a farmers market booth and often hear the light bulb go off in someone’s memory.

“They say, ‘Grandma and grandpa were on Meals on Wheels,’” Stempson says. “It’s like everyone knows us, but it’s so common it’s often forgotten.”

To deliver the meals, it takes 55 volunteers each week with a growing need for more.

“There is a brief [volunteer] online application and then I schedule an online orientation that takes about 30 minutes,” Cordon says. “We do background checks on all of the volunteers and we ask that people drive at least one route per month. We have some volunteers driving three times per week, so the more the merrier.”

For the current MOW volunteer family, they’ll celebrate their 50th anniversary on April 26 with an open-house celebration. There will be appetizers, light refreshments, a slide show of historical photos and more.

“I would love to see more drivers and more clients signing up,” Stempson says. “We have our 50th coming up and we’ll be around for another 50 more, I’m sure. As long as I can lift a container, I’m going to continue to do it.”Meals on Wheels of Hendricks County

For more information or to sign up to volunteer, visit hcmealsonwheels.org.

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