Meals on Wheels People makes and delivers food to citizens each week, and it's coming up on its 50th anniversary in business. Enter the Rose Festival, which has named Meals on Wheels People as the festival's official charity for 2019, and it's an honor for them to be selected, the nonprofit organization says.
When the June 1 Starlight Parade begins, it also begins a six-month celebration of 50 years of Meals on Wheels People in Portland — or, specifically, Multnomah, Washington and Clark counties — culminating in the anniversary in February.
Meals on Wheels People, which has its headquarters in Multnomah Village, will have entries in the Starlight Parade, June 1, and the Grand Floral Parade, June 8. Its Precision Ladle Drill Team will march in the Starlight Parade as well, as 14 members dance and wave around their whisks and ladles to the music of "Sing, Sing, Sing" by Benny Goodman.
They'll don aprons and 50th anniversary commemorative T-shirts, and "it'll be something to behold," says Julie Piper Finley, director of marketing and communications for Meals on Wheels People.
And then there will be a truly inspirational entry in the Grand Floral Parade: A "Seniors Court" of six women who dine at Meals on Wheels People neighborhood centers. They'll wear pink sweaters, tiaras and pageant banners that say "Rose Festival Senior-Senior Court."
The Rose Festival princesses are celebrated in the spring, including on the festival's website, rosefestival.org. Well, the senior ladies have been celebrated on the Meals on Wheels People Facebook page.
They are Janice Okamoto (Belmont neighborhood), Sonia Dreyfus (Lents), Pauline Long (downtown), Rhonda Perlatti (Tigard), Louise Fowler (Hillsboro) and Marlene McDonald (Cherry Blossom).
There also will be a cooking demonstration of Meals on Wheels People food from 1-4 p.m. May 25 at CityFair at Waterfront Park. They'll be cooking vegetable stir-fry and chicken dishes; yes, there'll be tasting plates.
The Rose Festival official charity, parade participation and cooking demonstration are "great exposure for us, and we're honored to be selected as the official charity," Finley says.
There are Meals on Wheels organizations in many communities and states; the local organization has differentiated itself by its name, Meals on Wheels People. It was started by three women in the basement of a Southeast Portland church in 1970.
The organization serves about 5,000 seniors, age 60 and older, each weekday.
"We're one of the older programs, and one of the largest in the country," Finley says.
It's not an income-based system. If a senior needs meals delivered, whether they live in the city and are poor and alone, or in Forest Heights and are nursing a broken hip and alone, "you still need meals and we'll bring you a meal," Finley says.
About 16,000 individuals are served annually, and Meals on Wheels People staff makes meals and uses about 450 volunteers every day to deliver and serve meals.
It all takes place out of a 14,000-square-foot, $7.5 million facility in Multnomah Village, built in the early 2000s. The organization raised money and paid for everything, and opened it debt-free.
"It was a big deal, and we raised that ($7.5 million) in addition to a $10 million operating budget," Finley says.
There are about 20-25 employees in the central kitchen making meals, 5 a.m.-2 p.m. each weekday. From the Multnomah Village facility, meals are sent to 25 neighborhood dining centers, where volunteers pick them up for delivery. Many people eat meals at the neighborhood centers.
The federal government helps fund Meals on Wheels People, and neighborhood centers ask only for donations toward the $7.39 per meal cost.
It's a misconception that the food is cafeteria-quality and is not restaurant-worthy, Finley says.
"Go to our website, mowp.org, and look at the menu," she says. "We don't rely on donated food, we have such a high volume, we purchase food.
"There's seasonal produce, and we make everything from scratch daily. And there's ethnic food: chicken chili verde, lemongrass fish, Slavic cabbage dish. We do try to accommodate the needs of who we serve. Salads and soups are made daily. We have nice quality produce. We serve spinach salad a couple times a week. It's a highly developed menu. We also have a staff dietitian, and follow federal guidelines for protein and vegetables."
That's why the cooking demonstration and tasting will be important. "They want to show how nutritious and flavorful their food is," says Marilyn Clint, Rose Festival chief operating officer, "and how they target toward ethnicities. They also just opened a restaurant in Vancouver (Washington)," and they have a Meals 4 Kids program serving children and families with low food security.
It's all about striving to be the best in helping out others. Meals on Wheels People proudly says it has never had a waiting list for people to receive food.
"Some of the people we serve, it's the only meal they eat that day, and the volunteer is the only person they see that day," Finley says.
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