The Meals on Wheels program, provided by the Payson Senior Center, has expanded this year from serving 115 to 120 meals to homebound seniors to serving 133 to 140 a day, five days a week.
Deborah Barber, the Senior Center board of directors treasurer, says a new contract was submitted to the Pinal-Gila Council for Senior Citizens Area Agency on Aging Region V. The proposed Meals on Wheels budget for this year shows that each meal costs $6.20. An individual senior receives 260 meals a year. The
cost per person per meal for one year is $1,600. The Payson Senior Center expects to serve 33,800 meals this year as part of the program.
There are nine senior centers in the council and the federal monies for services to seniors are divided among them.
"Each center," Barber said "gets a base amount and the remainder by a formula that includes population and usage of services."
The population of Payson is smaller than other cities, but the usage is greater. However, there is a concern that the federal dollars will be decreased this year. That might mean less funding for the Payson Senior Center.
When Reed Cox became director of the Senior Center there were 20 people on the waiting list for homebound meals. "One of the first things I wanted to do was eliminate the waiting list," said Cox.
Another driver was hired, and more volunteer runners who bring the food to the seniors were found to include a third route.
Although it's a lunch meal the day starts early for the drivers. Terry Bottesch, one of the drivers, describes the process of getting the meals delivered. "At seven o'clock we pick up our route sheet for the day and see if there are any additions or deletions to our route."
The ice chests are packed with milk and desserts. Tracy Belcher, the cook, and her assistants prepare the hot meals and place them in a plastic container.
The meals are sealed with a plastic wrap and placed in a hot box to keep them warm. Ice chests keep the milk and desserts cold. The drivers, Terry Bottesch, Bob Miller, Michael Ritter and relief driver Lee Leinenger, load all the food in the van.
The volunteer runners arrive and they are off to deliver the meals. For holidays, they deliver an extra frozen meal to the seniors. The meals must be delivered within a two and one half hour window.
There are 17 to 20 volunteer runners who bring the meals to the clients' homes. The delivery of the food varies.
Some elders have the volunteer come directly into the house, give them the meal and chat for a few minutes.
Other folks choose to have the meals deposited in an ice chest outside their door.
The pets at each home also get a special treat. The volunteers offer a biscuit to each client's dog.
All the drivers are trained in CPR. They are in communication with the dispatchers at the office if they run into a problem, such as a door may be locked and no one answers.
One morning a volunteer found a woman on the floor in her kitchen. She fell down the day before and could not get up.
A driver saw a woman wandering in front of her house. She had locked herself out. At these times the driver will call the Senior Center office.
The office dispatcher calls the house, the responsible party, or the case manager. If it appears to be an emergency, the driver also calls 911. The driver will stay with the individual until help arrives or the situation stabilizes.
One of the clients offered that he is very grateful for the meals. His wife is quite disabled and he realized they needed help with meals. "The people are clean, pleasant, friendly and timely. The meals are always hot and well prepared," he said.
Charlie Todd, one of the runners, said of the homebound seniors, "They all are so appreciative and glad to see you each day. I find I'm truly helping people. I'm part of their lives."
The food is purchased in bulk from Shamrock Distributors and local markets.
The program is offered to seniors over 60 years of age. The suggested donation is $3, which does not cover the cost of the meal, but helps to offset the cost.
When the senior, a relative or friend identifies a need, they can call the Senior Center. The center personnel refers the individual to the Pinal-Gila Council at 1-800-293-9393. Once the contact is made, a representative of the council calls the senior for an interview to determine if they qualify for the program. A case manager visits the client in their home to see if other services are needed.
The Meals on Wheels program is about more than bringing food to the elderly in Payson. For many isolated individuals, the visit becomes a lifeline to the community.