By SUSAN CLARK PORTER firstname.lastname@example.org Finger Lakes Times
CLIFTON SPRINGS — Gil and Ruth Adams have it down to a science.
They should. The Clifton Springs couple has been delivering meals to seniors for close to 13 years.
Every Tuesday the couple heads to the basement of the Spa Apartments, where they receive their delivery list for that day and help pack the coolers of food. Last Tuesday, they had eight meals to deliver in the village and town of Manchester.
Ontario County’s Home Delivered Meals Program, run by the Office of the Aging, provides meals five days a week to seniors 60 and older who meet eligibility requirements. There is no charge, although, if a recipient is able, donations ($2.50 per meal) are accepted to expand the program.
The program depends on volunteers like the Adamses to get the meals to people’s homes. In Ontario County, about 200 volunteers deliver the meals to recipients on 21 of the agency’s 24 routes — Office for the Aging staff do the other three. Tarah Shedenhelm, aging services specialist with the county Office for the Aging, says more volunteers are always needed as the county’s elderly population continues to rise.
Last year, 57,000 hot meals were delivered to seniors’ homes. And, for those not on the home-delivery routes in Phelps/Clifton Springs, Canandaigua, Victor, Honeoye or Geneva, 19,000 frozen meals were distributed.
Shedenhelm said 200 volunteers might sound like a lot, but that number is not always available.
“During the winter it’s pretty hard to get subs because a lot of them are older and don’t like driving in the bad weather,” she said.
Would-be drivers must provide a driver’s license and proof of insurance. They meet with Office of the Aging staff to learn about the home-delivered meals program, then train with a seasoned volunteer. Shedenhelm said mandatory trainings are being planned for twice this year so all the volunteers can be brought in at the same time.
She noted that volunteers don’t necessarily have to be married couples, and that organizations like Canandaigua National Bank and the DDSO are fielding teams. Volunteers can sign up for weekly or even monthly deliveries, or as substitutes. The Geneva site is especially in need of help, Shedenhelm said, since some of the “regulars” are sidelined due to health reasons.
The Adamses are longtime volunteers. Gil, who retired as an accountant from Garlock Sealing Technologies in Palmyra, drives; Ruth, a retired elementary teacher, schleps the meals from their car to the recipients’ doors.
“She does most of the work; I just do the driving,” said Gil, whose brother, Ralph, sometimes helps out if either he or Ruth are unable to do a shift.
The meals are assembled in a basement kitchen of the Spa Apartments.
Last Tuesday’s menu featured a hot dog and roll, baked beans, carrots and yogurt. Milk is always provided. Staff-filled aluminum tins, assembly-line style, then popped on a cover with a device they call “the Slammer,” which mechanically crimped the edges. The milk and yogurt was loaded into one cooler, while the hot meals were loaded into another receptacle and covered with a hot pack.
Off they went.
The number of clients rises and falls; in the summer, the couple was delivering 12 meals, but they’re down to eight now, as some people head to Florida for the winter.
“It’s an elderly clientele,” said Ruth, noting some clients receive the meals for years, while others for just a few weeks after a health crisis. “It helps a lot of people stay in their homes longer than they could if they didn’t get the meals.”
Ruth said she counsels new clients who profess to being picky eaters to try things because the meals are nutritionally balanced.
She’s quick to point out that the meal deliveries serve more than a nutritional purpose.
“It’s a hello and to check on them too,” she said.
The recipients are so grateful for the hot meal, Ruth said. At her first stop, a gentleman was watching television and came right out to eat his dinner as soon as it was delivered. That was also the case for a woman who Ruth said is especially thankful for dinner. She had an apron on and told Ruth, “I’m all ready to eat my meal.”
At their last stop, the third floor of an apartment building, a man was waiting outside his door at the end of a long, dark hallway, waving and asking Ruth what was for dinner that night. He appeared happy with her answer. Inside she went to visit briefly with his wife.
Their route now finished, the couple returned to the Spa Apartments to drop off the empty coolers. If any of the recipients aren’t home, the Adamses let staff know — they, in turn, can call a designated contact person. If that person can’t be reached, officials at the Office of the Aging are contacted, and they may enlist the police department to do a welfare check, Ruth said.
The couple finished the route in less than an hour, in large part because of Tuesday’s mild weather. Other days this year have been rainy, cold and windy, but Ruth said it’s still been nothing like last winter, when the snow never seemed to stop falling.
“It was certainly challenging,” she said of last winter, “but we just stuck with it.”