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Feb. 2, 2007

Volunteers Are Key Ingredient in Senior Meals Program

Each day in hundreds of homes across Oswego County, frail and elderly citizens wait for a friendly knock on the door from a volunteer delivering a hot meal. The home-delivered meals program, funded by the Oswego County Office for the Aging and provided by the Senior Services Division of Oswego County Opportunities, Inc., is vital to these men and women.

About 870 homebound elderly residents of our county receive prepared meals. Most of them receive two meals a day, a hot meal with all the ingredients for a healthy lunch or dinner, and a cold prepared meal that can be heated up for later in the day. Last year, 230,818 meals were prepared and delivered through the senior meals program.

Home-delivered meals can be essential to a homebound person's physical and emotional well-being, says Larry Schmidt, administrator of the Oswego County Office for the Aging. In some cases, the knock on the door by a volunteer driver is the only contact that they receive. In order to qualify for home-delivered meals, he notes, the resident must be age 60 and over, have a physical or mental limitation, or be frail and homebound.

In many cases, the home-delivered meals, along with in-home elderly care, make the difference in whether an elderly person can continue to live independently on their own. It also provides a huge savings of taxpayer dollars. The cost of a full year of home-delivered meals, along with home-aide service through the Office for the Aging, is less than the cost of one month of care in a skilled nursing facility.

Dedicated volunteer drivers are the backbone of the senior meals program. They travel through all types of weather, day in and day out, to make sure that the elderly receive nutritious prepared meals. Ninety-two drivers, most of them seniors themselves, volunteer to deliver meals through the OCO Senior Services Division.

There is always a need for more volunteers, notes Tracy Doherty, support service specialist for OCO Senior Services. Volunteers can be used as substitute drivers and on some of the regular routes, she said.

Many of the routes can be done during a lunch hour. It may take 20 or 30 minutes for the shorter routes, to more than an hour in some of the rural areas. Volunteers are reimbursed for mileage.

The meals are prepared at the Ringgold Fire Station in Pulaski and delivered by vans to distribution points across the county. OCO staff and volunteers in the Pulaski kitchen prepare and package the meals.

An important component, also funded by Oswego County and provided by Oswego County Opportunities, Inc., is the congregate meal program. Meals are served in community gathering places like fire halls or churches that offer fellowship and conversation in addition to the benefits of a hot meal. There are currently seven group meals sites in the county - in Oswego, Hannibal, Fulton, Mexico, Parish, Pulaski and Phoenix. An eighth site, in the Hastings area, is expected to re-open in the near future.

About 600 county residents visited the group meal site last year. Volunteers also play a key role at these sites by helping to serve meals and assisting with other activities.

More than six million meals have been served since 1974, when the senior meals program began in Oswego County. There are plenty of opportunities for volunteers to be involved in this worthwhile endeavor. If you're interested in helping, call Oswego County Opportunities at 598-4712, or the Oswego County Office for the Aging at 349-3484 or 1-800-596-3200, ext. 3484.

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