42.9709° N, 82.4249° W
Port Huron, Michigan
Meals on Wheels
By Patti Samar
For more than 13 years, Ken Smith has driven a Meals on Wheels delivery truck for the St. Clair County Council on Aging, Inc. (COA).
But Smith knows he is a lot more than a meal delivery man. He and the other drivers are a lifeline to the customers they serve every day.
“They are more than just a name on my list,” said Smith. “You see someone almost every day for five years or 10 years, you’re really invested in them. When you lose somebody, it’s rough.”
According to Jyme Hager, associate administrator at the COA, during fiscal year 2013-2014, Meals on Wheels delivered hot meals to more than 1,200 homebound seniors in St. Clair County. The meals are paid for by a combination of donations — $2 is the suggested donation; state and federal dollars; and the senior services millage.
Smith and Hager both noted that while Meals on Wheels provides its obvious service in the delivery of food, the presence of the drivers provides both the meal recipients and their family members with reassurance that someone is checking in on the senior on a regular basis.
“One of the reasons we’re there is to check on them,” said Smith. “It gives them peace of mind and it gives their families peace of mind. If we can’t get in the door, we will send someone out to check on them.”
“We have to know we have done everything possible to help,” said Hager, who noted that Meals on Wheels drivers are sometimes the first to discover a senior in need after a fall or worse.
“We have had a driver pull someone from a burning house,” she said.
“We are kind of like the eyes and ears,” said Smith, who remembered getting help for a senior who had fallen in a senior apartment complex. “She wasn’t even my client and yet every day she thanked me for helping her out.”
Smith chuckled and noted that he is well known at several senior living residences as “The Food Man.”
“I can’t go out to eat without people recognizing me as the Food Man,” he said.
Hager and Smith both noted that the job can be difficult as years pass and the staff can see some of their customers begin to fail.
“Some of them go fast,” said Smith, but he said he can tell how quickly — or if — someone will recover from an illness or a fall based on their mentality.
“A lot of health is attitude,” he said. “You see people give up and their gone. And some people are 60 going on 90 and some are 90 going on 60. I had two people in one year who were both living on their own at home and both were over 100.”
The highlight of Smith’s day is making deliveries to his clients. “Most of them are happy to see you, and if nothing else, they’ll ask you about the weather. A lot of them have nobody.”
Hager and Smith both noted that many of the COA staff has been with the organization for a long period of time.
“We have drivers who have been here for 18 or 19 years, cooks who have been here for 20 years,” said Hager. “One of the reasons we all do our jobs is because we care about people and we believe in what we’re doing.”
Hager noted that Meals on Wheels delivered almost 350 meals during each of the past Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. “Those are people who were alone,” said Hager.
In addition to seniors who need meal assistance, Hager noted that the Meals on Wheels program is available for caregivers who might be able to get out, but they are homebound due to a sick, injured or disabled family member.
“We have a lot of other programs here, too, that can help caregivers,” said Hager. “And that’s why we exist…we’re here for them.
“We are a safety net for the senior and the family,” said Hager. “I know I would want someone to do that for my parents.”
Said Smith: “You realize, 20 years down the road, that’s going to be me.”
If you would like to make a donation to the St. Clair County Council on Aging, Inc., please visit their website.