For decades, our community has benefitted from the “Wholesome Meals on Wheels” program, which can be traced back to the 1970’s, when this service to assist home-bound individuals in need of daily nutritious meals was created.
“Our program offers this service to more than 65 home-bound individuals, including seniors, caregivers, people recovering from surgery or to those who have chronic medical conditions,” says Janet Buchanan, the 15-year Meal Coordinator. “Most of our deliveries are within the city boundaries and close to city areas in Cherry Creek and Beaver Creek.”
Although most of the recipients of the service are seniors, there are other younger people who receive meals as well.
“Not long ago, we had a younger woman living on her own who had broken her leg,” said Buchanan. “We provided meals for her for a few weeks until recovery. Also, we have had cases of people injured in accidents who also benefit from our program”.
The history of “Wheels on Meals” began on November 24, 1972, by Hellen Patenaude, operating under the umbrella of the Family Guidance Association. At that time, the meals were prepared and boxed from the West Coast General Hospital kitchen and delivered by three volunteer drivers. The clients, six at that time, paid $1.00 each for their meals.
“With the opening of Fir Park Village, the meal preparation moved there,” said Claude Lavertu, President of the Board of Directors. “In 1981 the name ‘Meals on Wheels’ was officially changed to ‘Wholesome Meals on Wheels Association of Port Alberni, B.C.,’ and in 1984, it became a registered society. Funding was then available through the Ministry of Health and Ministry Responsible for Seniors.”
He also pointed out that the first coordinators of the program were Beth Lawrence and Eleonor Yates (assistant). Ardis Pearce, Connie Stewart and Kay Wallace were the first volunteer drivers.
Throughout the years, the number of clients has substantially increased. In fact, today this non-profit society, run by a volunteer Board of Directors, serves close to 700 meals per month, all prepared and delivered from Cypress Restaurant at Chances Rim Rock.
“The funding for the program is sourced through the Ministry of Finance via a Community Gaming Grant, a grant from the Vancouver Island Health Authority and revenues from the payments of meals paid by the clients,” said Lavertu. “We also appreciate the donations received from local individuals and organizations.”
The program relies on citizens of the Valley, who give their time and effort by delivering hundreds of meals a month. Thanks to them, the program continues to be a strong and meaningful service to those in need.
Currently, “Meals on Wheels” counts on a pool of more than 45 steady volunteer drivers who drive shifts from once a week, to those who fill in as spares. They are all trained by Buchanan, who said, “Our drivers not only deliver meals, but they add another distinctiveness to their visit, which is to use it as an opportunity for social interaction with the clients as well as to offer reassurance and comfort and to informally check on their well-being.”
This important feature allows the volunteers to know them better. And for some calendar events, such as Christmas and Easter, they deliver “goody” bags to each client.
“In appreciation for their service to the program, once a year we recognize their giving spirit by organizing a special dinner for them,” said Buchanan. “Also, they get a tax-exempt receipt for their car miles.”
In regard to the meals the clients receive, the coordinator describes what a typical menu may consist of: an entrée of meat or fish, potato, rice or pasta and fresh vegetables, plus either a salad or soup and dessert. Special nutrition and dietary needs are met, including those of diabetics. Fresh meals to cover the weekend are available for those who wish them and are included in the Friday and Saturday deliveries.
For information on how to obtain meals or become a volunteer driver, please contact the Meals Coordinator Janet Buchanan at (250) 730-0390.