Meals on Wheels benefits seniors for 50 years

Meals on Wheels benefits hundreds of local seniors

Jill Schramm/MDN Head cooks Jim Almond and Sophia Berg fill a food tray in packing meals for Meals on Wheels at the Minot Commission on Aging Friday.

A program shown to help keep seniors healthy and independent is celebrating 50 years.

Meals on Wheels was part of the Older Americans Act, passed into law in the 1960s, and launched nationally in 1972.

“What that means to us is that for the last 50 years, they’ve been advocating in D.C. and across the nation on the importance of the senior nutrition program for seniors, and probably over the last two years, we’ve seen how important that is,” said Roger Reich, executive director for the Minot Commission on Aging.

He said the pandemic has prompted more local seniors to choose home-delivered meals over dining in a congregate setting, and that has helped boost the number of delivered or take-out meals at the Commission on Aging from about 200 to about 325 over the past 10 years.

“We have 26 other meal sites throughout the seven counties that we serve. So we do another probably 200 meals throughout the seven counties, so about 500-550 meals going out every day throughout the region,” Reich said.

MCA contracts with Tri-County Senior Meals and Service in Rugby and Kenmare Meals on Wheels to help provide services in North Dakota’s Region 2. Preparing meals involves the coordination of various kitchens located in nursing homes in Mohall, Rugby and Velva, Westhope School, senior centers and restaurants.

“If we can, we like to use a restaurant in that local community. It’s kind of a two-fold thing. It helps that restaurant meet their bottom line, too, and we know that the seniors are getting something from their local community and that helps that community stay alive,” Reich said.

In addition, MCA delivers a month’s supply of frozen meals to a number of seniors in the region who do not have a local program. It also makes advance deliveries of frozen meals to those who request them for the weekends. The regular Meals on Wheels program operates Monday through Friday, or only three days a week in some smaller communities.

Reich estimated Meals on Wheels is about a million-dollar-a-year operation locally. MCA began offering Meals on Wheels in December 1973. The program originally was contracted to Minot State University, which prepared the meals until MCA moved in the mid-1980s to its current downtown location in the Parker Center, where meals currently are prepared and congregate meals are served.

Federal dollars provide about 30% of the funding. State, county and local dollars, including grants, help support the program, along with meal donations given by seniors who can afford to contribute. No one is turned away from the nutrition program for inability to pay.

Anyone aged 60 and older is eligible for the program, and Reich said MCA is proud to be able to accommodate new participants without a waiting list.

The challenge since the start of the pandemic has been supply chain and cost issues associated with obtaining groceries.

“We’ve tried to stockpile some of the things that we use on a day-to-day basis so that we have it on hand,” Reich said. “That’s an additional cost to us up front, too.”

Meals are made from scratch, following dietetic guidelines for the senior population.

Over the years, the Minot program has improved its operation with a blast freezer that allows it the ability to offer frozen meals and the use of biodegradable trays that are easier to seal and can be microwaved or placed in an oven by seniors.

“The other best part about the Meals on Wheels program is the volunteers and the staff that go out and deliver every day. We have a very good volunteer base. Minot always been very good at volunteering, and not just for Meals on Wheels but other events,” Reich said.

An added benefit of delivered meals is the personal contact with volunteers, which in some cases is the only contact a senior might have with another person that day. It not only provides social interaction and allows friendships to form but it offers regular checks to ensure their wellbeing.

In one case, a local delivery person found a senior’s house on fire and was able to safely remove her and call the fire department, Reich said.

The MCA Meals on Wheels program operates 16 to 18 routes a day with about 400 volunteers, either individuals or members of service groups, businesses or other organizations.

Meals on Wheels is only one of the services offered to seniors through MCA, but it is one of most impactful, according to assessments done on the 50-year-old program.

“By the benefit of the nutrition program, people stay healthier longer, stay in their homes longer,” Reich said.

“If they’re eating regularly and eating a good nutritional, balanced meal, you know that their medication is working better for them. So they’re able to sustain themselves in a more positive manner, less hospital visits, less than emergency room visits,” he added. “It does help to keep them in their homes and in their communities, where they want to be.”


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