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The logistics have changed, but local seniors are still getting meal delivery from Meals On Wheels

ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - Chris McKee (center), Nutrition Program Manager for Meals On Wheels in Inner Southeast Portland, is shown packing meals at Moreland Presbyterian Church. Nick Price (left), is Volunteer and Nutrition Education Coordinator for the organization, based at the headquarters in Multnomah Village. Ernie Goble (right) is a volunteer Tuesday driver. The Meals on Wheels People – previously called "Loaves & Fishes", until a name change in 2012 – began serving dining room meals in 1972 in Westmoreland's Moreland Presbyterian Church, where local home deliveries by volunteers also originated. The Inner Southeast service was named after an early advocate for the service, Sellwood's Thelma Skelton.

The dining room, and the home delivery center, moved to the meeting room at Sacred Heart Villa on Milwaukie Avenue in Brooklyn a decade ago – and that has recently closed. But that does not mean that the Inner Southeast meal delivery to seniors has changed!

Julie Piper Finley, Director of Marketing and Communications for Meals on Wheels People, explained the change of location to Sacred Heart: "Our goal [back then] was to move all of our dining centers out of church basements and into locations that were both visible from the street, and handicapped accessible."

Then, last year, Meals on Wheels People moved the operation back to Moreland Presbyterian – but only as a distribution center, not a dining room. Piper Finley said the number of people from outside the neighborhood who came to eat at the Thelma Skelton Center at the Sacred Heart Villa location had dwindled over time. In addition, it became more cost-effective to move back to Moreland Presbyterian simply as a distribution center, where the space is smaller and the rent is lower.

The Meals On Wheels Thelma Skelton Nutrition Program Manager, Chris McKee, packs the meals for homebound seniors four days a week in the Westmoreland church – after they arrive there, chilled, from a 14,000 square-foot kitchen in Multnomah Village. They are not delivered warm, so homebound seniors can choose to heat them at their own convenience. If appropriate, seniors can order meals appropriate for vegetarian, diabetic, low sodium, low cholesterol, and ethnic preferences.

The meals are picked up four days a week from Moreland Presbyterian starting at 10:30 a.m. by volunteer drivers, who deliver them to seniors in Inner Southeast Portland – an area ranging east to S.E. 72nd Avenue, and north to Division Street. Those who live in Sacred Heart Villa in Brooklyn can choose to continue to have their meals brought to their dining hall by these volunteers if they wish.

The regional organization, now officially known as "Meals On Wheels People" and regionally based in Multnomah Village, provides meals for people age 60 years and older who are homebound, and who live in Multnomah, Washington, and Clark Counties. Its motto is "No senior will go hungry, or experience social isolation."

There is no income requirement to be eligible to receive meals, either. The cost of each meal is $7.39, and recipients are asked to contribute to the cost of the meal if they are able. In the Sellwood-Westmoreland area alone, between January 1 and December 31 of last year, Meals On Wheels People volunteers delivered 38,108 meals to 300 homebound seniors.

"Our goal is to provide meals to every older adult who requests them, without instituting a waiting list. By being good financial stewards of the donations we receive, we can accomplish that," says Piper Finley.

The Meals On Wheels People organization helps seniors maintain their independence, and benefit from the human connections and social support provided by the volunteers who deliver meals.

You can be one of them. More volunteer drivers are always needed – which involves a commitment of about one hour to ninety minutes on a weekday morning. Drivers must be 18 years or older, and children can accompany a driver. Volunteers, including children over 7 years old, accompanied by parents, are also welcome to help pack meals.

To learn more, go online – www.mowp.org – or call 503/736-6325 to volunteer to drive, or to register to receive meals.

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