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For Those In Need Of Nutrition––Meals On Wheels May Be Newtown’s Best-Kept Secret

Published: December 31, 2002

KAAREN VALENTA

    For Those In Need Of Nutrition––

    Meals On Wheels May Be Newtown’s Best-Kept Secret

    By Kaaren Valenta

    When Ray Scholl became ill, his neighbor Nora Kelly was worried.

    Mr Scholl, who had diabetes, had lived alone for more than a decade since the death of his wife, and Mrs Kelly was concerned that he was not eating well or taking good care of himself. She called Mr Scholl’s longtime friends, Ken and Arlene Rupp, and she also called Newtown Meals on Wheels.

    By delivering hot, nutritious meals, the volunteer drivers of Meals on Wheels helped make it possible for Mr Scholl, now 79, to remain in his home for the past four and a half years.

    “We couldn’t have done this without this service,” Mrs Rupp said. “But we didn’t even know about Meals on Wheels then.”

    “Nora Kelley was a former Meals on Wheels (MOW) driver so she knew to call us,” Janet Hovious recalled. “We met with Mr Scholl and the Rupps to determine what he needs were and whether he met our criteria.”

     Mrs Hovious and Ellyn Gehrett are co-presidents of Newtown MOW, a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization that was formed in 1975 to deliver meals to persons who for physical, psychological, or economic reasons are unable to prepare food for themselves.

    “These are people who live alone, are homebound, and cannot drive and get out on their own to get any type of supplies,” Mrs Hovious said. “They have to rely on others for these service. That’s really important to understand. We aren’t a service for people who are tired of cooking.”

    Referrals generally come from relatives, friends, neighbors, and occasionally by the person who is in need.

    The meals are prepared at Ashlar of Newtown, a skilled nursing facility on Toddy Hill Road. Volunteers pick up the meals each weekday at 11:30 am and deliver them to recipients throughout Newtown.

    “This is especially wonderful for people who are on special diets because these kind of meals can be prepared at Ashlar,” Mrs Hovious said. “One of the most requested is the diabetic diet. Food can also be pureed or chopped for people who cannot cut up their own food.”

    During its first year of operation, MOW delivered 1,036 meals to 28 persons who paid $1 a meal. Twenty-seven years later, the cost to the recipient is only $2.50.

    “We pay more to have the meals prepared and packaged but we are able to subsidize the cost through donations,” Mrs Hovious said. “Recently we received $2,500 from the Goodrich Company in Danbury that has employees who live in Newtown. That really helps us to keep the costs down.”

    All of the MOW officers and drivers are volunteers, which also helps. There are 100 volunteer drivers, most of whom deliver only once per month.

     But the MOW board of directors is beginning to wonder whether information about their service is reaching those who need it. In the last year the list of recipients began to drop significantly.

    “We are down almost 50 percent in the number of recipients that we can service,” Mrs Hovious said. “We can deliver a maximum of 32 meals, but we have only 16 recipients now.”

    During the past two years seven recipients moved to assisted care facilities and seven others died, she said, but the number of people being interviewed as possible new recipients has decreased dramatically. “In the ten years before 1997 we averaged 23 to 28 interviews a year and we had 47 in 1997,” she said. “In the last two years, we have had only 13 per year.

    “The only explanation I can come up with is that people either don’t know about our service or they are trying to make do in some fashion, ” she said. “I worry about whether they are getting the right kind of food. It concerns me.”

    Recipients do not have to meet any income restrictions to qualify.

    “This is not about dollars. We don’t ever ask about income,” Mrs Hovious said.

    At its peak, MOW had 40 recipients who lived on five different routes. Now there are four routes, designed by geographic area. MOW drivers are assigned to a route near where they live or work and are asked to spend less than two hours once a month to deliver the meals.

    “We are always looking for drivers and for substitute drivers,” Mrs Hovious said. “But now we are also looking for recipients.”

    In Mr Scholl’s case, it was Nora Kelly who brought him to the attention of MOW.

    “He is such a gentle soul, a wonderful person,” Mrs Kelly said. “He was terrific with my four children in the years that we lived across the street. But he had some health issues and it was becoming apparent that he needed a helping hand to make sure he was getting enough nutrition.

    “I didn’t feel that I was overstepping when I contacted Meals on Wheels and his good friends, Ken and Arlene,” she said. “It worked out very well. He was very accepting of it after a little resistance to the idea at first. He knows he is paying, that it isn’t a handout.”

    Nora Kelly had been a MOW driver for about a year after learning about the organization at a Labor Day Parade.

    “People in the parade were handing out flyers,” she said. “My friend Nadine and I took the flyers, looked and them, and said, ‘We can do this!’ We realized it wasn’t a huge commitment that we only had to drive once a month. It’s a wonderful service –– a way to give back for all that you have received.”

    Nora Kelly believes it is equally important for people to watch out for their neighbors, particularly those who live alone.

    “If you see a neighbor who looks like they need a little help, reach out and make sure that someone knows about their need,” she said. “Call Meals on Wheels. It’s a wonderful service.”

    For more information about Meals on Wheels, to suggest a recipient, or become a volunteer driver, contact Janet Hovious at 270-1960 or Ellyn Gehrett at 426-8436.