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Hot Meals with a Side of Caring

November 9, 2018

Lowell Sun

TEWKSBURY -- For more than 100 residents in town, getting a Meals on Wheels lunch is something they can count on five times a week. But Tewksbury Senior Center Director Nicole Hutcheon said the program is about more than a hot meal.

“The Meals on Wheels program is good for a couple of reasons. One, it gives someone a meal that otherwise wouldn’t have it,” Hutcheon said. “But two, someone’s getting a set of eyes on them five days a week. That interaction could potentially be the brightest part of somebody’s day.”

The program is run through Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, which is based in Lawrence. The program is reserved for those at least 60 years old or qualified adults with disability who are considered homebound, according to Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley.

There is a suggested $2 donation per meal, according to Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, but Hutcheon said no one will ever be denied a meal because of their inability to pay. She said meals aren’t delivered on holidays, so an additional frozen meal is delivered the previous business day instead. Frozen meals are also delivered in advance of severe weather, like snowstorms.

The meals for the month are posted in each of the senior center’s newsletters, which can also be viewed on the town website.

Shirley Lambert, the program’s site coordinator in Tewksbury, has been involved with the program for 40 years.

“It’s a good program and I love the people, the people are really nice,” Lambert said. “But the biggest thing is getting drivers to commit.”

There are four driving routes in town, so if someone calls out, drivers have to pick up additional deliveries should no one else be available.

“I know some days they struggle if anyone were to call out sick someone may have to pick up a whole extra route, or they’ll have to split them. But you have to think that the people delivering these meals are seniors themselves, so that’s a lot to ask,” Hutcheon said.

There have been some winter days Hutcheon has had to go out to deliver meals because of the lack of drivers. She said they understand the importance of both getting these meals delivered and the interaction between the resident and the driver.

“Sometimes that’s equally as important if not more important than the meal itself,” Hutcheon said.

Gail Deackoff has been a van driver for the past year. When there’s a need, she also delivers meals, which she said has been rewarding. Often her trips will run a little longer because she enjoys chatting and checking in with the residents.

“It is a big eye opener as far as what people need and how some people don’t have family and they count on this meal,” Deackoff said. “A lot of people, especially if they live alone, they really count on it and they’re so appreciative.”

Deackoff said if people are able, they should consider volunteering for the program to see how they feel.

“It’s a whole other feeling,” Deackoff said. “It’s a whole other level of humanity, like you belong to a community.”

To find out if you qualify for Meals on Wheels or to pursue a volunteer opportunity, contact Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley at 978-683-7747 or visit www.esmv.org .

Follow Kori Tuitt on Twitter @KoriTuitt.

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