Meals on Wheels – and feet, too

Walla Walla General Hospital's Meals on Wheels has been a local mainstay for 40 years.

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Walla Walla General Hospital employee Lucy Garcia assembles this day's cold lunches for Meals on Wheels volunteers who deliver the food to homes of recovering patients.

It takes two, baby.

And many other volunteers in the kitchen to get them loaded up and on the road

That's the human recipe for success of Walla Walla General Hospital's home-delivered Meals on Wheels program.

When people are recuperating at home they need healthy meals, and probably the last thing they have energy for or want to do is cooking and cleaning up afterward, said Carla Dowie, the hospital's director of nutritional services.

The volunteers box up the meals and deliver them on two routes, one in Walla Walla and one in College Place. There is a driver and a runner, the latter of whom dashes from the car to deliver the meal to the client's door.

"We have five volunteers each of the days so we have maybe 18 ladies that work with it on a regular basis," said volunteer coordinator Margaret McDonald. "We have 12 to 14 stops on each route, some take two meals to get them through the day."

The home delivered meal program has been serving the community since September 1971. The operation's original brochure, with an amusing drawing by Margaret Jamison of a delivery person on a bicycle, defines its mission as "a helping hand in a time of emergency or need."

Sometimes people need just a little bit of help to get back on track. And for anyone who's sick and on his own, it's nice to have someone stop in, although the volunteers delivering the meals don't have much time to chat. But they do contact a supervisor if something is obviously not quite right with the client, and the supervisor then calls a neighbor or a relative to alert them.

Meals are delivered Monday, Wednesday and Friday with a sack lunch for evening. They can also be delivered Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday if a second meal is needed.

The meal service fills a need in the community. In the early 1970s there wasn't such a program and there was an increasing need.

"We didn't have anything in Walla Walla to help older people," McDonald said. "They looked at programs all across the country to put something together. The General Hospital has been absolutely wonderful to work with; we wouldn't be able to do it without them."

The Center at the Park adopted a similar program in 1976.

According to McDonald, Margaret Thompson and Dorothy Hockett were among the original founders of Walla Walla General's Meals on Wheels.. McDonald herself has been working with the program since 1971. Much of the coordinating has been done by a group of women from different churches in the area.

The clients are homebound in some way. "Basically, they aren't well or are incapacitated," McDonald said.

She praised Walla Walla General's dietary staff and their capacity to accommodate nutritional concerns and special diets, including meals for diabetics, vegetarians, vegans and people with high cholesterol.

"The hospital really does take care of us," McDonald said. "The hospital does all the preparation and special diets. But we could definitely use a few more volunteers."

For more information call 509-525-0480, ext. 1621 or 509-527-8263.

Karlene Ponti can be reached at 509-526-8324 or karleneponti@wwub.com

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