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A Q&A with Meals on Wheels

Chris Moldovan, a Registered Dietician, a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Clinical Dietitian, knows all about the health benefits of the program; she is Director of Nutrition for Meals on Wheels, a program run by the organization Age Well.
Meals on Wheels is the only federally supported program designed specifically to meet the needs of seniors. It provides nutrition to our seniors, plus it decreases social isolation by getting a friendly volunteer to interact and visit with a person who might not otherwise see or talk to anyone else in a given day. Along with the inevitable impacts of aging come the increased risks of medical emergencies, falls and other accidents. The safety check that accompanies each meal delivery ensures that in the case of an emergency or problem medics and families will be called.
Moldovan answered some questions from the Independent about how Meals on Wheels works.
 
Q: What is the main goal or mission of Meals on Wheels?
MOLDOVAN: Meals on Wheels’ goal is to provide nutritious meals and companionship to ensure the health and safety of those we serve. We do this by serving healthy meals both short-term and long-term to people over the age of 60 or who are otherwise eligible with priority given to those with highest nutritional risk who are unable to prepare their own meals. Meals on Wheels is one of the many services Age Well provides seniors and compliments our mission to provide the support and guidance that inspires our community to embrace aging with confidence.
 
Q: How does the program work? Who is eligible, what does it cost and when are meals available?
MOLDOVAN: Meals on Wheels is partially funded though the Federal Older Americans Act (OAA). Meals must be compliant with all OAA Nutritional Guidelines, safely prepared and handled, and delivered to individuals to meet one-third of the Recommended Daily allowance for people over the age of 60. Meals are produced, packaged and delivered to hubs or dropped off at locations where our dedicated volunteers pick up and then deliver meals presorted by routes to people in need.
 
Q: Why is this program necessary in Vermont and specifically Addison County?
MOLDOVAN: According to Meals on Wheels of America, 23,327 Vermonters over 60 are threatened by hunger and 41,743 are isolated, living alone. Many people over 60 live alone or far away from family members with many having no daily contact with anyone outside of the Meals on Wheels delivery volunteer. The program also meets short-term needs related to temporary illnesses or recovery from surgeries as well as those with long-term needs to assist a client in managing their chronic health issues such as diabetes. Rural areas like as Addison County can make it even more difficult for a person who no longer drives or is unable to get out of the house to shop or prepare meals for themselves.
Food is medicine and we provide both quality and therapeutic meals as a preventative measure. The combination of proper nutrition, a safety check and a friendly visit offers wrap-around support that enables seniors to remain healthier, independent and at home, where they want to be.
 
Q: How many participants receive meals as part of Meals on Wheels?
MOLDOVAN: Last year, Age Well served Meals on Wheels to over 1,700 individuals; 25 percent of our Meals on Wheels clients live in Addison County.
 
Q: How many volunteers work with this program, and what are their tasks?
MOLDOVAN: We have over 500 Meals on Wheels volunteers including 190 in Addison County. Volunteer drivers meet at local hubs to pick up meals and route delivery sheets. For many seniors, the trusted Meals on Wheels volunteer or staff member who shows up every day with a meal and a warm smile is the only person they see or speak with all day. Time commitment is based on their availability — it can vary from one day a week to once a month (weekdays only).
 
Q: Is the Meals on Wheels program growing, shrinking or remaining the same in terms of participants and need? Why?
MOLDOVAN: The size of the Age Well Meals on Wheels program has been increasing slightly over the years despite the rapid growth of the aging population in Vermont. At this point, Age Well has not needed to form a waiting list of people who need meals. We are working to assess nutritional and hunger risk to gather baseline data on those we serve to ensure that the most at risk have access to meals. Federal funding has remained relatively the same for many years despite the rise in the population over 60. In response, Age Well has been working to diversify our public and private funding of Meals on Wheels so we can continue to meet the ever-growing need.
 
Q: What changes are planned for Meals on Wheels?
MOLDOVAN: As of July 1, across Addison County, Age Well will be able to provide specific therapeutic diets such as Heart Healthy, Diabetic Friendly, Lactose Free, and Gluten Free as well as texture modification to help people manage their chronic health conditions to those that demonstrate a need.
Also, under the current model, Age Well oversees 14 different food vendors across Northwestern Vermont. With this many unique vendors, it is difficult to provide consistent quality control and food variety for the nearly 1,500 people we serve. In order to better serve aging Vermonters, Age Well has selected a single vendor, Lindley Food Service. Beginning this July, Lindley Food Service will serve all of Addison County in order to better serve the population and provide the therapeutic meals. This model will ensure consistent quality and allow us to meet a broader range of nutritional needs. Additionally, Lindley has agreed to our local foods pledge and works with local farms such as Salvation Farms to glean produce.
 
Q: How will this program evolve and change going forward?
MOLDOVAN: With the senior population set to double by 2050, we anticipate the need for Meals on Wheels will only grow. We are so grateful for the community’s continued support over the years. As federal funds have stagnated over the years, individuals, towns and businesses have stepped up by donating and volunteering to help make sure no senior is left behind.
To learn more and sign up for Meals on Wheels, call Age Well’s Helpline at 1-800-642-5119.
To volunteer contact Erica Marks, director of Volunteer Services, at 802-662-5249 or [email protected].

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