Judith Pelot can be very persuasive. A few weeks ago she spent 30 minutes talking about Meals on Wheels, also known as Mobile Meals. Fellow Farragut Rotarians and I listened to her. Ever since, Meals on Wheels has been rattling around in my mind. It won’t go away. Last week while driving around and looking for another company’s office I found the West Knoxville Meals on Wheels office instead and I wasn’t even looking for it. Must be a message there!
Judith gave me an education. This program is a crucial part of the lives for more than 900 home-bound senior citizens in Knox County and many of them live alone. Each gets one nutritious meal a day that often times ends up being two meals. That’s obviously important, but what really hit home for me is what I call “the rest of the story” that Judith shared. And by that I mean it’s not just about food – but about relationships and friendships.
Judith, in case you do not know, is the director of this program for the Community Action Committee’s Office on Aging.
“We are keeping seniors in their homes, which makes them happy and is more economical. But we become friends with them and offer companionship and they have someone to talk with,” she says. “It also gives us a chance to do in-home assessments to check on what else they need.”
Their volunteer force numbers just more than 2,400 today. That’s a lot of volunteers. “They build wonderful, meaningful relationships and many of our volunteers refer to these seniors as ‘My people,’” she added.
The Office on Aging helps with more than just meals — things like home repairs, case management, utility assistance (financial) and the Senior Companion Program. Its AIMS program helps seniors navigate the Medicare system. Many times the volunteers alert Judith and her staff to the needs of the seniors they serve.
She told me about their upcoming fundraiser — CAC Mobile Meals Power of the Purse Fundraiser, now in its fourth year. This is a benefit for Knoxville and Knox County’s Mobile Meals program and will be from 5-8 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 20, at Rothchild Catering and Conference Center. Tickets are $40. Prior to the event, volunteers receive donated purses and auction items from the community and local businesses. Attendees can purchase the purses at “Purse Madness.” A simultaneous silent auction will offer 15-18 groupings, all containing a high-end designer purse and the other donated items such as cosmetics, jewelry, coupons/gift cards, car washes, dry cleaning, floral arrangements, summer camps for children, vacations, sporting events, golf packages and spa packages.
Here are more tidbits that I learned from her:
- Their annual budget is $1.5 million and federal funding covers half of that. Judith and the staff must raise the remaining $750,000. “That $750,000 is on me,” she said.
- Approximately 900 meals are delivered daily, Monday through Friday, to homebound seniors. That requires 1,500 miles of driving a day.
- They also serve meals to another 300 seniors living in what she called “high rises” who enjoy group dining.
- Meals on Wheels in Knox County is one of only two programs statewide with no waiting list.
- Each volunteer delivers 15 meals a day and there are 65 routes.
Earlier this year the Mobile Meals program here became the first program in the United States to receive Eat REAL® certification. This designation is a holistic nutrition and sustainability certification program for the foodservice industry developed by Eat REAL
Through the REAL Certification they have developed dedicated staff and partnered with local culinary students, including the University of Tennessee Culinary and Catering Program and members of the American Culinary Federation, to increase Mobile Meals Community Kitchen’s ability to utilize a greater percentage of produce from the neighboring CAC Beardsley Farm.
They are, and have been, doing this the right way for a long time.
If you’d like to volunteer they will let you do a trial volunteer opportunity with an experienced volunteer. If you have any questions, you can contact them at 865-524-2786 or email the volunteer coordinator, Shelly Woodrick.
And yes, I’m about to call and see about becoming a Mobile Meals volunteer. I don’t think I found them. They found me!