The meals don’t put the wheels on themselves; there are some pretty great people who volunteer to deliver them.
Jane Wood started delivering meals 19 years ago when she saw a notice in the St. James Church bulletin. “I had lost my mother and my in-laws in the same year, and I missed them. Connecting with older people is very rewarding.”
Carol Tuczinski (mentioned more than once as the volunteer backbone) just stopped last year when she moved into the Payne Home. “I thoroughly enjoyed it because I got friendly with the people.
“I enjoy it, I like elderly people and it’s really important,” said Pat Collins who’s been volunteering since she retired from teaching. “In 18 years, I’ve seen so many people who should not be cooking for themselves. I’ll keep doing it until I can’t drive anymore.”
“I remember my mother was so happy to have someone delivering meals,” said John Francis. “I get more out of it than they do, meeting these people.” Over the years, he delivered to WWII vet George Mackey in Ghent and 101-year-old schoolteacher Ellie Fingar.
“I did it when my kids were little in the 1980′s and returned to it after I retired from teaching first grade at Chatham,” said Jean Northrup. Her husband Ed started delivering meals after he retired as the Postmaster in Ghent. “It’s a good program and people get to see someone everyday,” said Ed.
In fact, Michele Kraham, an administrator at Columbia County Office for the Aging, the agency that runs the meals-on-wheels program, said, “Besides delivering a hot meal to people who can no longer cook for themselves, the volunteers also serve as a daily well check.” If a recipient doesn’t come to the door, the volunteer will call their emergency contact.
Almost 300 hot meals for the entire county are prepared at the Philmont Nutrition Center, headed up by Nutrition Services Coordinator, Amy Anderson, who oversees a staff of 22 people. The meals then go out to eight different senior centers that serve hot lunches (Philmont, Greenport, Hudson, Canaan, Copake, Livingston, Valatie, Stuyesant) as well as to the pick-up points for each town’s home deliveries. Lisa DiStefano, Nutrition Program Assistant, coordinates the volunteers. In Chatham, the volunteers pick up the meals at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Woodbridge Avenue and Pat Collins makes up their schedules. For Ghent, the Ghent Town Hall is the pick-up point and Town Clerk Michelle Radley makes up the schedules.
The program is set up so volunteers only deliver one day a week or one day every other week, and the delivering time is 11:15-12:30. It’s a very manageable commitment – which is a good thing, since many of the volunteers give their time in other ways.
Jane Wood works at the Chatham Food Pantry, “I guess the basics, like making sure people have food, is important to me.”
Jean and Ed Northrup are both active in their church, the Chatham Reformed Church on Park Row; Ed does grounds upkeep and Jean assists in scheduling the visiting ministers. Additionally, Jean introduced Operation Adopt-a-Soldier through the Chatham American Legion Women’s Auxillary, and Ed does the VFW Coats-for-Kids Program.
John Francis often delivers meals with a rescue dog or two. He fosters dogs for his daughter’s ‘hobby,’ Help Orphan Puppies, Inc. The organization rescues dogs from high-kill shelters, usually in the south, and finds homes for them. He’s also volunteered as an EMT with Chatham Rescue.
The numbers of both volunteers and recipients have been down, and the Office for the Aging would like to see both go back up again. According to their website, eligibility to receive meals is not based on financial need, only need: “Home Delivered Meals, popularly referred to as Meals on Wheels, are for those 60 years or older, essentially homebound and unable to prepare their own main meal of the day. The meals are designed to provide one-third of the USDA Recommended Daily Intake of nutrients.” Envelopes are left every Friday for those who can make donations for their meals, but it’s not required.
“If you know anyone who needs our services,” said Lisa DiStefano, “please let them know to contact the Office for the Aging at 518-828-4258.”
And if you’d like to volunteer to deliver a meal, call Amy Anderson or Lisa DiStefano at the Philmont Nutrition Center at 518-672-5323.
“Volunteering is a good thing. I enjoy the community,” said John Francis. “And it’s a fun group.”
Photos: Carol Tuczinski, Jane Wood, Ed & Jean Northrup with granddaughters Rileigh & Maya, John Francis