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Meals on Wheels delivers more than food

Meals on Wheels delivers more than food

Meals on Wheels volunteer Marilyn Dodge’s son accidentally owns a dog named Cookie No. 3.

Meals on Wheels is an organization where volunteers deliver hot, nutritious meals to approximately 100 clients in Columbia who can no longer cook for themselves. Volunteers often develop friendships with their clients and end up helping them in many other ways. This is how Cookie No. 3 came into the picture.

Dodge, who has volunteered for the organization on Mondays for the past 13 years, was dropping off food to a client who’s in her 90s when she heard the awful news: the clients’ dog, Cookie No. 2, had been run over by a car. The client always names her dogs Cookie so she won’t forget their names.

The client’s son, who lives in California, was convinced that a new dog wasn’t a good idea, but she finally won him over. Dodge agreed to help her in her search for a new Cookie.

She found a sweet, calm older dog at the Central Missouri Humane Society for the client, but once the client arrived at the Humane Society, she didn’t agree. She wanted the cute, high-energy dog that was her preferred color and size.

Cookie No. 3 came home with the client, and everything was great, until one Monday when Dodge was dropping off a meal.

“Do you know what your dog did?” the client asked Dodge.

Cookie No. 3 had chewed up the carpet.

A few weeks later, the same question arose: “Do you know what yourdog did?”

Cookie No. 3 had a habit of messing up beds after they had been made.

Unfortunately, this was the last straw, and Cookie No. 3 had to relocate. Today, he happily resides out in the country with Dodge’s son.


Behind the program

Dodge has funny stories to tell about her volunteering adventures, but she takes Meals on Wheels very seriously.

“It’s an excellent program,” Dodge says. “It keeps so many people at home.”

All senior citizens over the age of 70 are allowed to join the program, as well as individuals who have recently been hospitalized or suffer from a disability. There’s a wide range of individuals being helped by the program, from a mother going through chemotherapy who feels nauseous while cooking to seniors dealing with memory loss.

The program allows clients living by themselves to be checked on every day. Some don’t have family or friends to check up on them, so this aspect of the program is important.

There’s a sliding fee scale for clients based on the federal poverty level. This means that the amount they pay for the meals depends on their gross income.

Approximately 200 volunteers of all ages help deliver the food that is cooked by the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital. Some are full-time volunteers, and others are substitutes. Each volunteer delivers three to 10 meals a session. A registered dietician is present to deal with specific meal variations clients need. There’s a meal for diabetics, a low-sodium meal and the like.

Meals on Wheels offers a hot lunch and a sack dinner. Approximately 125 meals are distributed every day.

The meals are planned out a month ahead of time and offer plenty of variety. Some of the most popular dishes are the hamburger and a Thanksgiving-style meal with turkey, dressing, gravy and vegetables.

The volunteers drive out in 17 different directions to deliver the meals. There’s no limit on the amount of clients who can join the program.


‘They have the purest motives’

The Columbia Meals on Wheels also has a “project homecoming” partnership with the hospital. When individuals are healthy enough to return home after a stay in the hospital, Meals on Wheels offers them meal delivery at a reduced rate for 20 days.

Columbia’s Meals on Wheels only has two paid employees: Executive Director JoNetta Weaver and office manager Karen Carter. Most of the program’s funding comes from grants and donations, though they do hold a fundraiser called “Big Wheels” every year. They have a grant from the City of Columbia to help clients with the greatest need pay for their meals.

Weaver retired from her position as principal at Shepard Boulevard Elementary School two years ago. Now that she’s “retired,” Weaver trains the volunteers, writes grants, fundraises and manages finances.

Weaver speaks highly of the Meals on Wheels volunteers. She says they’re “that shining smile in the middle of the day” that the clients want to see.

“They’re very active but still have an internal compass that says they need to give back,” Weaver says. “They have the purest motives.”

Volunteers such as Dodge, who is a retired MU assistant to the president of governmental relations, personally benefit from the program as well. Dodge used to deliver meals with her late mother and now continues the tradition with her husband, Zane. It’s an opportunity for the two to spend time together as well as make new friends.

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