Imagine being home alone, and answering the door to find a smiling neighbor offering a hearty, warm meal. Even for an active and able-bodied Islander, that would be a welcome sight. But for homebound seniors, the midday Meals on Wheels delivery is a much-appreciated godsend.
Meals on Wheels, a program of Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Islands administered locally from a satellite office in Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, currently serves 66 Island seniors who are unable to get out or prepare their own food. The number increases with seasonal residents.
Recipients are 60 years old and beyond, including a good number in their 90s, and one is 102. They may be homebound due to ill health or fragility. Some younger recipients sign on temporarily as they recover from surgery.
Meals are prepared and packaged for delivery and reheating in the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital kitchen. A stalwart team of dedicated volunteers pick up the meals at 10 am and make deliveries Monday through Friday, ensuring that these Island neighbors will not go without at least one complete repast each day. If needed, additional meals can be delivered on Friday for weekend coverage. There are eight routes, with deliveries all across the Island from Edgartown to Aquinnah to Chappaquiddick.
Chris Porterfield, the hospital’s director of food and nutrition, consults with nutrition coordinator Michele Dupon while creating the monthly menu.
Favorite cool weather entrées are Yankee pot roast with whipped potatoes, meatloaf, chicken cacciatore, salmon with hollandaise, butternut ravioli, and more. Meals include bread, vegetable sides, dessert, and milk. Summer menus often feature cold plates, salads, and seasonal fruits. Calorie and sodium details are listed.
Preparation cost of a single meal is approximately $10.50. Consumers are asked for an anonymous donation of $3 per meal to offset cost, but no one is required to pay.
The same meals are served at Council on Aging luncheons Monday through Friday in Tisbury, and once a week in Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury.
Michele Dupon is a champion for Island seniors, overseeing all aspects of the meal delivery program, from logistics to volunteers. Along with organizing and getting dozens of meals out promptly every weekday morning, Dupon supervises Council on Aging nutrition sites. Her third important role is case manager, making home visits to recipients every six months.
Dupon, a former restaurant manager, began with Elder Services about five years ago, drawn to the work after caring for her mother. The experience opened her eyes to the complex needs of many Island seniors. “I left the money job for the good-feeling job,” she laughed.
Dupon’s packed days are focused on seeing that her clients’ needs are being met. “I want to make sure everybody has the ability to stay in their homes as long as possible and not have to be placed somewhere,” she said.
Despite the demands of her hectic schedule, Dupon is passionate about her work, and grateful for the opportunity to support and get to know her meal recipients: “You develop such a close relationship with them, they become like an extension of your family.”
Volunteers play an important role
Volunteer drivers come from all walks of Vineyard life. Some are retired. Others, even a dentist, make time in busy workweeks to deliver meals.
While she has a good-size crew of active volunteers, Dupon is always seeking more. The demand for meal delivery is constantly growing. Although most volunteers work for several years — one has driven for 30 years! — there is turnover.
Substitute drivers are needed when a regular volunteer is unable to work. Often Dupon herself drives a route when there’s a last-minute need.
Prospective drivers may visit the office, or call to request an application. After having the application reviewed and passing a CORI check, the new volunteer receives on-the-job training, traveling with an experienced driver to learn routines. Drivers use their own vehicles, and can receive gas reimbursement.
“It’s very rewarding,” said Dupon of the meal delivery work. “And I have wonderful drivers. They’re caring and compassionate.”
Volunteers play an important role beyond delivering a healthy meal. They provide eyes and ears, the first line of response if a consumer is having a problem. While dropping off the meal to the homebound client, they pay attention to ensure there are no problems.
“It’s also a wellness check,” Dupon explained. “The wellness check is just as big as the meal. That volunteer may be the only person the consumer sees in any day.”
If the client does not answer the door and cannot be located, steps are taken to make sure all is well. “We go looking,” said Dupon.
Most situations are easily resolved by a phone call to a friend, neighbor, or family member. The client may have been dozing, or received a ride to an appointment and neglected to tell the office. Dupon will contact police only as a last resort.
Volunteers are also trained in correct medical emergency protocol to keep the client safe while contacting first responders.
Occasionally the volunteer notices a concern. The consumer may be walking unsteadily, food is piling up in the refrigerator, eyeglasses are lost, potential safety hazards exist.
Dupon calls the local Council on Aging to provide additional services or assistance. Sometimes a family member or friend steps in to address issues.
“Our community is very supportive,” said Dupon. “You just have to know who to call.”
For information on receiving Meals on Wheels or to volunteer, contact Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Islands Martha’s Vineyard office: 508-693-4393, ext. 192.