Meals on Wheels People: Improving quality of life for senior population

Organization gets support from Waste Connections, New Seasons Market, local banks & others

Meals on Wheels

There’s been a lot of focus on the homeless in our region lately. But according to Rebecca Brown, operations and programs manager for local nonprofit Meals on Wheels People Clark County, there’s another, even larger segment of our population whose needs are often overlooked – the elderly and homebound.

Brown said that Meals on Wheels People Clark County serves more than 1,000 meals per day, employs 11 people, depends on the goodwill of more than 200 volunteers and serves lunch at seven dining centers throughout the county (the Firstenburg and Leupke Centers in Vancouver, plus centers in Battle Ground, Amboy, La Center, Ridgefield and Washougal).

The needs of the homebound elderly are complex, said Brown. They include financial need (some meal recipients even share their meal with their pet), physical need (such as someone who just had hip surgery and cannot cook for themselves), and social need – for some who live in rural areas, the Meals on Wheels People volunteer may be the only person they see all week. Brown said that there have been several cases where a Meals on Wheels volunteer has saved a life by catching health conditions before it’s too late.

“All these needs are equally important,” said Brown.

She added that the recession has had a severe effect on many elderly county residents’ retirement savings – these residents are now outliving their income and are negatively impacted by the housing crisis.

“It’s hard for everybody, but for seniors it’s worse,” stated Brown. “They can’t go out and get a second job or improve their education. The need is greater for our seniors than it’s ever been before.”

Unfortunately, while the need for the number of meals rises every single year, donations are not keeping up, Brown said. The organization is planning two major fundraising events this year:

  • Carpool Karaoke video campaign, as part of the September 22nd Give More 24! event, Southwest Washington’s largest day of giving. Brown said the video will be publicized through social media, and she hopes it will go viral.
  • Hootenanny Festival on November 11 (Veterans’ Day), held at the Leupke Senior Center from 6 to 8 p.m. There’ll be a folk-music concert with free full dinner. Music will be provided by “The Stellar Fellers,” who have been playing in Clark County for 30 years.

Meals on Wheels People also sells artisan popcorn – with delivery – to raise funds year-round. In 2017, the whole program will be brought in-house to increase cost efficiency. Other fundraising avenues include the Fred Meyer Rewards and Amazon Smile programs and Goodshop.

“Fundraising is more important than ever,” said Brown. “We’ve never had a waiting list or an income requirement, and we don’t want to have one. The only way that is possible is to pound the pavement and fundraise and find ways to keep our costs down.”

The business community, Brown said, can help immensely by sponsoring tables at the Hootenanny, issuing “matching challenges” to their employees, sending donations (with “donation stays in Clark County” written on the bottom of the check) and encouraging employees to volunteer. For example, Brown said that Waste Connections is Meals on Wheels People Clark County’s #1 involved company, and other companies such as New Seasons Market and several banks pay their employees for time spent delivering meals. Another way to help out would be to donate a van.

“We’re a big county and serve a lot of meals per day,” stated Brown. “We need more businesses to pull together to make it happen.”

Brown stressed the need for ongoing communication with the community, through fundraising programs, Twitter, Facebook and other channels. She said that while the organization has made “great strides,” it’s still a challenge to “paint a better picture of what we do and the true need.”

“It’s easy for people to see children or animals and dig in your pocket and help,” said Brown, “but it’s harder to get people to realize the need that our seniors have. It’s not just a meal – it’s much more many-layered than that.”

Learn more on the organization by searching “Meals on Wheels Clark County” on Facebook.

The bigger picture

Meals on Wheels People Clark County is part of a three-county organization that also serves the elderly and homebound in Oregon’s Multnomah and Washington counties. The organization was founded in 1969, and expanded to include Clark County in 2006.
Three women delivered that first set of meals (14) on paper plates wrapped in newspapers. Today, the organization serves more than 5,000 meals five days each week (1.3 million meals/year), employs about 100 people, and relies on the services of about 8,000 volunteers.

Meals on Wheels People meals are available to anyone over the age of 60. Each meal costs $7.39 and seniors are encouraged to donate what they can afford. Weekend and holiday meals are provided to those who have no other source of food or support.

A sample menu

Meals on Wheels menus are available in English, Spanish and Chinese, and feature nutritious hot food such as the following:
Pork Tenderloin with Dijon Sauce, Tri-Cut Red Potatoes, Asparagus, Tossed Salad w/Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette, Frosted Carrot Cake
Turkey Roast w/Apricot Sauce, Brown Rice, Willamette Blend Vegetables, Claremont Salad, Chocolate Zucchini Cake
Asian BBQ Chicken, Potatoes, Oregon Bean Medley, Spinach Salad w/Ranch Dressing, Raspberry Parfait

Established 2006

Jodie Gilmore
Jodie Gilmore’s journalistic background includes more than 15 years of writing for the Vancouver Business Journal as well as other publications such as Northwest Women’s Journal, North Bank Magazine, American Builders Quarterly and The New American. A Master’s in Technical & Professional Writing and 20+ years in the trenches as a technical writer and online help developer round out her writing background. When not writing, she enjoys gardening and working on her small farm in the Cascade foothills.

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