A moving way to feed homebound seniors | TahoeDailyTribune.com

A moving way to feed homebound seniors

It’s 10:30 a.m. and volunteers are heading out with full coolers. The aroma of meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy is thick in the dining room at the South Lake Tahoe Senior Center.

Maureen Kirkland, meal site coordinator, is briefing a new volunteer on answering the phones. The center bustles as three paid members of the kitchen crew and eight volunteers prepare for the noon rush. The center produces approximately 65 “Meals on Wheels,” five days a week and serves as many as 60 to 70 seniors at the dining room. Each meal has a suggested donation of $2, but no senior would be turned away for lack of money, Kirkland said.

The program is possible through federal and state funding.

Kirkland coordinates five drivers each day to cover South Lake Tahoe’s routes. The home delivery is not available to Nevada residents. Nevada seniors can come into the dining room and eat, but because it’s a state-funded program, deliveries can’t cross the state line. There is no similar program for Nevada lake residents.

To qualify for home delivery residents must be 60 or older and have a medical reason why they can’t come into the senior center.

“I’m always looking for more volunteers. We couldn’t do it without them. They’re the backbone of this program,” Kirkland said.

Rick Matthews is delivering the “mountain route” this Tuesday. He was nominated for his four-wheel-drive truck.

Matthews, 52, has donated his time for the last year.

“It’s a way to give back to the community,” Matthews explained. “It’s easy to give money, but it’s more of an effort and more of a statement to do something yourself.”

The route covers homes near Heavenly Ski Resort and above Sierra House School and down to Elks Club Road.

“You develop a rapport with the people and you get to know them,” Matthews said, as he pulls up for his first delivery. “Most of them are pretty much confined to their homes.”

Matthews was surprised to learn the number of elderly in Tahoe. When Meals on Wheels began in 1994, there were four routes and a clientele of about 20 people. Four years later, the numbers have tripled.

Each of Matthews’ stops are brief, but it’s contact nevertheless. According to Kirkland, distant family members often call to get relatives on the program, if for no other reason than to have someone coming to the house five times a week.

Drivers are back at the center to return their empty coolers by 12:30 p.m.

Only then does Kirkland get a chance to eat something herself. While she is eating, two of the drivers approach her about getting a sympathy card for the family of one of their former clients who has died.

“The drivers get attached and they might be the only person to know if the seniors are dead or alive from day-to-day,” Kirkland said. “I think we’ve really expanded to meet the needs of the populace. For some people, this is their last chance to stay in their home, and without it they would have to be placed in some type of assisted living situation.”

Tahoe has no such in between situation for seniors. From boarding care, seniors go right into a skilled nursing facility.

The South Lake Tahoe Senior Center is located at 3050 Lake Tahoe Blvd. For more information call (530) 542-6094.

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