As people grow older, their ability and desire to prepare regular meals for themselves can diminish. Meals on Wheels can step in to help ensure that homebound elderly people get a meal Monday through Friday.
I sat down with Eileen Hafften, the executive director of the NE Minneapolis Meals on Wheels Dinner Bell program. This year marked the 36th anniversary of the program. There are 45 Meals on Wheels programs in the Twin Cities and Metro Area.
Jennifer Sellers: Thank you for taking the time to meet with me. Meals on Wheels provides such a vital service to so many people. What drew you to work for Meals on Wheels?
Eileen Hafften: I have had a lot of experience working in restaurants and volunteer management, as well as experience working with seniors. I have held the executive director position for eight-and-a-half years here at Meals on Wheels. I originally saw the position advertised in the newspaper and applied. I have a degree in human resources.
JS: How did Meals on Wheels get started in Minnesota?
EH: Local churches got together, organized a board of directors and submitted the necessary paperwork. Several of the original founders in Ramsey county and other areas are still with Meals on Wheels today. Many of the volunteers stay on with the program for many years.
JS: How far does Meals on Wheels go to deliver a meal? What is your area of responsibility?
EH: Each local division of Meals on Wheels has an area of responsibility. The NE Minneapolis boundaries are to 37th Avenue on the west, Highway 88, Hennepin Ave. on the east. We also service a portion of St. Anthony Village residents.
JS: What kind of meal is served? Are there different meals for different needs?
EH: Each division’s menu is decided jointly by their caterer and Dinner Bell. Northeast residents tend to like meat and potatoes, chicken and other similar foods. Each meal contains one-third of a person’s daily dietary needs, including a protein, vegetables, fruit, milk, bread and butter, and a dessert.
JS: Describe a typical day for Meals on Wheels.
EH: Northeast has 12 routes each day and delivers 110-150 meals a day. In the morning, the pre-packaged meal arrives at our location. At 8 a.m., the food is arranged like a TV dinner into each container, along with sides and a dessert, and loaded into the delivery vans. By 11:15, the drivers have arrived. By 12:30, the drivers have finished delivering the food and returned to the Meals on Wheels location.
I spend the afternoon working on grant writing, soliciting donations, looking for fundraising opportunities, recruiting volunteers, managing the insurance, billing, data entry, and talking to social workers, among other activities. Many of our clients are referred by social workers, so we are in close contact with them.
JS: Are all drivers volunteers?
EH: All the drivers and board members are volunteers. We have two full-time staff members and one part-time, as well as one intern. Many of our volunteers have been with us for many years.
JS: Does Meals on Wheels also provide a check on their home-bound clients? Do they do emergency calls?
EH: The drivers are required to make eye contact with the clients each time they deliver a meal. Since they see them regularly they can tell if someone is in trouble and report this to us. We follow up to make sure the client is doing fine. If a client does not answer the door, their emergency contact is called to check on them. We do not leave a meal if the client does not answer their door.
JS: How many meals are provided each day?
EH: We serve 110-150 meals a day, Monday through Friday.
JS: Who makes the meals?
EH: The chef at Chelsea’s Restaurant in Richfield provides the meals. We have been with them for at least a year.
JS: Who are Meals on Wheels’ volunteers?
EH: Half of our drivers are retired people. The other half come in on their lunch hour. Some local companies sponsor a route and different employees share the responsibility. Those routes are designed to be less than an hour long. Some alternative schools have groups that do a route together with their students and a teacher. Some community involvement groups come together with their caregivers and deliver a route together. Many of our drivers get involved through church. Some come in once a week, some once a month, however Meals on Wheels fits their schedule best.
JS: Does Meals on Wheels usually give each driver the same route?
EH: Our volunteer drivers all have different schedules and varying frequencies, so they usually have a set of routes that they tend to do, but they do not do the same one each day they come. Our more senior drivers get first choice.
JS: How is the cost of each meal covered?
EH: Some clients donate money for each meal, some are covered entirely by Meals on Wheels funding. Meals on Wheels is often funded through insurance. The Federal government and Hennepin county subsidize the meals. We also are funded through donations. We have started fundraising as well. The actual cost of each meal is $7.
JS: How can a family sign up their loved one for Meals on Wheels?
EH: Those receiving Meals on Wheels must be homebound. Those 60 and older get Federal subsidy. Many times a social worker recommends Meals on Wheels for a client. A family can also call Meals on Wheels to get more information and sign up. If the family or client donates money for the meals, a social worker does not need to be involved.
JS: Thank you very much for sitting down with me to discuss your essential program for seniors and those who are homebound. I know the community and families appreciate your program and all your efforts!