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Longmont Meals on Wheels Celebrates 50th Anniversary with an Eye on Continued Expansion

March 5, 2019
Longmont Meals on Wheels volunteer Anna Miller talks with client Ben Maes, 73, on Monday while delivering a meal to his home.

If you go

What: Longmont Meals on Wheels 50th anniversary celebration

When: 5 to 7 p.m. March 15

Where: Longmont Senior Center, 910 Longs Peak Ave.

Cost: Free

More info: bit.ly/2ExpOhh

In 2014, Ricardo Lopez-Carmona, a now 61-year-old Longmont resident, was rear-ended on his way home from work. The accident caused significant brain damage and ultimately took him out of the workforce.

His wife, Mary Lopez, a 73-year-old who struggles with her own health problems, said he now requires around the clock observation, preventing her from working as well.

While the couple receives $1,888 a month in disability and Social Security checks, $1,250 goes to rent and, after paying their bills, almost nothing remains for food.

Without Longmont Meals on Wheels, Mary Lopez said she and her husband would “probably be dead.”

Now in its 50th year serving the community, Longmont Meals on Wheels has served 2.5 million meals to thousands of families and aging individuals who, like the Lopezes, struggle to keep food on the table.

As Longmont’s population ages, subsequently growing the nonprofit’s client base, Executive Director Karla Hale said Meals on Wheels will do whatever is necessary to ensure no one is turned away.

In large part that means continuing to run a standalone nonprofit that doesn’t accept state or federal funding. In doing so, it can avoid strict government rules and regulations and expand its services any way it sees fit.

“We live in a very generous community and if we don’t have to take the state and federal funding, then we can serve the people who need to be served and feed them the food they like,” Hale said. “The founder saw that from the very beginning. Hopefully, it can always remain that way. The fact that we’ve been around for 50 years shows that what we are doing is really needed.”

For example,federal regulations prohibit Meals on Wheels from serving anyone younger than 58, and require food meet certain health requirements, such as no use of salt. By self-funding, Longmont Meals on Wheels serves anyone in need, regardless of age, never has a waiting list, and serves 90 kinds of meals, which its clients enjoy.

“I love it,” said Ben Maes, 73, whose daughters signed him up to make sure he was eating right. “There’s only been a couple meals that didn’t agree with me and when I told the volunteers they fixed it right up. It’s great for me.”

Learn more

To learn more about applying for assistance or volunteering with Longmont Meals on Wheels, call 303-772-0540 or email Andrea Ralston at andrea@lmow.org .

When Longmont Meals on Wheels began in 1969, it served 3,500 meals to 17 clients. Today, with the help of 280 volunteers, it serves more than 500 meals a day to a client base of nearly 2,000. With an expanded facility at the Longmont Senior Center built in 2012, Hale believes Longmont Meals on Wheels can ultimately provide 750 meals a day.

Having joined Project Homecoming, which was created by Meals on Wheels Boulder to provide meal services for those recently released from the hospital, that additional capacity might be eaten up sooner than expected. In just one year, from 2017 to 2018, Longmont Meals on Wheels served an additional 11,000 meals through the program.

“We’re going very fast,” said Andrea Ralston, the program assistant for Longmont Meals on Wheels. “We have about five people sign up each day now.”

Though Hale estimated it would take another 125 volunteers to cook and deliver 750 meals a day, those who are already volunteering enjoy it so much they have no doubt it can be done.

“It’s just fun,” said Anna Miller, a retired school teacher who has volunteered as a driver for the past 11 years. “The staff is great, all of the volunteers are happy and when you bring someone their food, even if they are really ill, you can see a little twinkle in their eyes that makes it all worth it.”

With many of the drivers serving the same route each week, Meghan Altland, Longmont Meals on Wheels’ program service manager, said the volunteers grow attached to their clients and those connections mean almost as much as the food itself — especially because many clients are elderly individuals with no family for friends to check up on them.

Just having a volunteer drop off food and check to make sure they are OK can reduce the chance of premature institutionalization -— especially for those for whom a fall could be fatal — and provide a social element to their lives that can increase mental acuity.

“It’s more than just a meal,” Hale said. “It’s an extra wellness check that can truly save people’s lives. We’ve seen it work numerous times when people are down”

With that in mind, Longmont Meals on Wheels recently launched the Lock Box Program, which provides people with a secure lock box to hide a spare key in, the combination for which is given only to the police.

This type of creative solution driven by community need is exactly the kind of programs Hale hopes Longmont Meals on Wheels can continue to provide for the next 50 years.

“We really just want to keep giving the community what they need,” she said. “It takes a lot of listening to learn what they need, but we are committed to another 50 years of service.”

John Spina: 303-473-1389, jspina@times-call.com or twitter.com/jsspina24