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Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing

Photography Provided

Though Meals on Wheels has been around for 45 years, the Hendricks County Meals on Wheels operates as an independent corporation outside of the national organization, partnering with Hendricks Regional Health in Danville. The hospital prepares all the meals (Meals on Wheels is a client who pays for this service). According to Sue Cox, Program Director of Meals on Wheels of Hendricks County, Hendricks Regional Health is more of a philanthropic supporter as they provide office space, computers and other equipment.

“We don’t have the overhead that a lot of non-profits do,” Cox says. “We are lucky in that aspect.”

Utilizing roughly 100 volunteers, they deliver meals throughout all of Hendricks County. They are on track to deliver 21,500 meals this year, up a bit from last year. Cox attributes climbing numbers to the fact that, increasingly, people are wanting to age in their own homes. She regularly talks to family members who tell her that their elderly parents don’t want to enter assisted living or nursing homes. Adult children strike a deal, allowing their parents to continue living independently if they sign up for Meals on Wheels.

“It gives families peace of mind to know that their folks are getting a nutritious meal five days a week,” Cox says. “Just as importantly, they like knowing that someone is checking in daily.”

Monday through Friday, Meals on Wheels delivers one hot meal in the early afternoon that consists of a protein, a starch and a vegetable. For the most part, everyone gets the same meal unless there is a dietary restriction.

They have a rotating seven-week heart-healthy menu that includes things like chicken, turkey, pork, carrots, peas and potatoes. A sample meal might be roast turkey, sweet potatoes, broccoli, coleslaw, apple cobbler, a slice of whole wheat bread, a pat of margarine and a carton of milk — all for just $5.13. For those who wish to receive both a hot and cold meal, they can pay $9.08 a day.

“Some clients like having additional food for the weekends,” Cox says. “All are low-sodium meals, which is not always what our clients want, but it’s what they need to be eating.”

Those who sign up for the program may do so on either a short-term (e.g., following a hospital stay) or long-term basis (e.g., for homebound members or those who prefer not to cook). Though many of Cox’s clients are physically able to still prepare a meal, they’re tired. The median age of those who utilize the program is 80. In addition, preparing a nutritious meal for one is hard.

Some volunteers deliver once a week, others once a month. But many community members have been volunteering since the 1970s.

“The volunteers are what makes this program run like a well-oiled machine,” Cox says. “They are the wheels that make this program run.”

The majority of the volunteers are retired. Others are hospital staff who deliver during their lunch hour. Some are realtors, bank employees and stay-at-home moms. The elderly especially love it when volunteers bring along their children or grandchildren during deliveries.

“I’ve got one volunteer who is in her 30s. She delivered when she was young with her grandmother and now she sits on our board of directors,” says Cox, who has been pleased by the low turnover in volunteers.

“The longevity is amazing, and I think that’s party because of the bonds that develop between volunteers and their clients,” Cox adds. “To be honest, many of our clients are signed up for the program for the daily interaction more than they are for the food. Our volunteers may be the only person they see all day or all week.”

Meals on Wheels of Hendricks County, Inc., is located at 1000 E. Main Street in Danville. Volunteer applications can be found at hendricks.org/mealsonwheels. Donations are welcome via mail to Meals on Wheels of Hendricks County, P.O. Box 409, Danville, IN 46122.

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