March Is For Meals

NORTHEAST KINGDOM-The month of March is a nationwide meals on wheels awareness campaign. This nation wide event was originally created in 1972 when Richard Nixon signed a law that recognizes the older Americans Act of 1965. Establishing a nutritional program for people over the age of 60.

The month of March also comes with a champions week event, the week stretching from March 22nd to March 26th. In Vermont the Northeast Kingdoms Council on Aging recognizes meals on wheels partners, as well as their volunteers. Acknowledging their hard work as the number of participants grew over the last year, serving over 20 thousand people in Vermont this year due to covid-19.

What the council would usually do in non-covid times is host a dinner to honor everyone involved in the program. Local legislatures would also go on local deliveries to get involved in the Month's celebration. This year with covid, the Council decided to recognize all the volunteers, drivers, and meal sites for their hard work.

"So what we are going to do is create a slideshow, and we've interviewed many of our participants, our meal site managers, our partners. Also our drivers, and we are going to run that slideshow all over our social media," Nutrition Director of NEK Council on Aging, Laura Valcour explained. In these interviews conducted by the Council, everyone involved commented on how they feel about the program.

West Burke Meal site celebrated the month of March by sending one of their delivery drivers as a leprechaun. Bob Theriault is the meal site manager at West Burke, he is new to the job. As Valcour would say he is still in the "honeymoon phase," of being a part of the program.

Theriault shares that since covid the number of residents have grown. "Pre-covid times we would have people coming into the meal site. We would only have one route with maybe ten people we would be delivering meals to. But now we are delivering approximately forty five meals for the three days we are open," Theriault explained.

Theriault says that residents get excited to get their meals, as well as the interactions they have with the drivers. "A lot of these folks live by themselves, in a rural area. Our drivers are the only interaction that they might have." Another meal site manager from St. Johnsbury feels the same way. Diane Coburn has been running the meals on wheels in St. Johnsbury for 23 years.

Coburn explains that some residents have a hard time starting their day, and some folks have depression. But when meals on wheels come, it lifts their spirits."They're up, they're getting dressed, they're looking forward to getting their meals on wheels. So it's a very positive situation, I think it's been probably more so during covid. We just don't have the full full interaction that we did before because people have to stay outside. The program just helps so much, it brings smiles to peoples faces and good food," Coburn stated.

With covid, many of these meal sites have longer hours. Volunteers can be in the kitchens up to five hours making meals. Prepping for weekend meals as well, making separate meals for people that might have allergies to certain foods.

Every meal site is dedicated to making sure every resident they serve receives a well cooked meal. Coburn says when she first started the job, she did a minimum of four hours. Doing ten thousand meals a year, this past year the number jumped to over forty two thousand meals.

Laura Valcour explains that the number of meals for the year has maxed out for all 15 meal sites "We are currently serving twenty thousand eight hundred fifteen meals a month. Pre- covid, we were doing nine thousand one hundred eighty five a month. That was february of 2020, that's what we did. So talk about that humanitarian award for these fifteen meal sites."

"Many of our sites changed from being traditionally congregate programs, to now offering pick up service. As well as home delivery," Valcour stated. Meal sites are going out of their way to make sure these residents are being taken care of. "That's what we want to stress to people too, even though we are maxed. Every meal site is continuing to take new participants, daily," Valcour explained. The NEK Council on Aging encourages residents if anyone over the age of 60 needs food, they should contact their help line at 802-748-5182.