Meals on Wheels

It started as a program that delivered meals to 16 residents in Ypsilanti. Now, the program delivers 400 hot and cold meals everyday.

Meals on Wheels

David Jordan leans with his hands shoulder-width apart on a table, glancing at the blue sticky note attached to the clipboard in front of him. He picks up a brown paper bag next to him and stands, shifting his eyes to the 18 others surrounding the clipboard.

He stares at the sticky note, then back at the bags. “We’re one over,” he says, confused. “I guess that’s okay. Better to be one over than one under, right?”

He shrugs and smiles before continuing to place them in bins—each bag filled with one banana, one pear, one or two cartons of milk and bread—which were then placed in a van to be distributed to residents surrounding the area of Ypsilanti, Mich.

In the summer of 1973, the Mayor’s Council on Aging in the city of Ypsilanti approved to allot $8,000 for the delivery of meals to homebound individuals. By Jan. 14, 1974, the program, Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels (YMOW), had organized volunteers to prepare meals in the kitchen of First Baptist Church. The organization then made its first delivery to 16 residents. Since then, the program has expanded and distributes approximately 400 hot and cold (to be heated later) meals per day to the elderly, ill and disabled, regardless of financial state. Additionally, the organization purchased four vans for the delivery of meals, which are prepared by Valley Food Services. The menu rotates on a 21-day cycle for hot meals and a 15- day cycle for cold; all meals are aimed to be low in fat and sodium and appropriate for recipients with diabetes.

Jordan, a Client Care Associate at YMOW, started as a volunteer for the organization after retirement before responding to a request to deliver the meals regularly. He was personally motivated to join because his parents both received meals from the program; his mother suffered from cancer, his father from Alzheimer’s disease.

“If you didn’t put food in front of him, he didn’t think about [eating],” Jordan said. “The Alzheimer’s got so bad that they couldn’t cook for themselves… My sister and I were working full-time and it was just one of those situations.”

Jordan got involved with YMOW in the fall of 2015 and, as a Client Care Associate, has realized that for some homebound residents, he provides more than just a meal. “Other than giving people food who need it, it’s a little bit of interaction because sometimes we’re the only people they see all day,” Jordan said. “They have no other person that spends 30 seconds with them.”

About 40 residents who receive meal service with pets additionally receive cat food, dog food and kitty litter provided by the Humane Society. YMOW also partners with students from the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University; nursing and social work students participate in assessments, while students involved in sororities and fraternities at both universities volunteer to deliver meals.

“We couldn’t do it without the volunteers,” said Cathie McClure, Vice President of the Board of Directors. “It’s great to have all the help with our community.” McClure got involved with YMOW by being a guide for the first Holiday Home Tours—one of the multiple fundraisers that takes place to continue supporting the community. The evening consists of a stroll through three to six homes with a wine reception at the Hutchinson Mansion and has been going on annually for the past 20 years.

At bimonthly board meetings, members such as McClure discuss and look for new ways to improve wages and benefits in addition to improving the program for residents and volunteers. The board meetings also look for ways to prepare for the future financially. A few years ago, the organization came close to having to discontinue the program due to their financial status, which would mean closing their doors to a waiting list of nearly 30 people. Luckily, the organization bounced back and now has no waiting list; if someone were to call tomorrow, they would be able to get a meal delivered the next day. According to McClure, everyone is working hard now to secure the financial resources because the population of residents receiving meals is expected to grow.

As the organization expands, YMOW will continue to support the community and deliver meals in the Ypsilanti area to individuals.

“You get a joy out of helping somebody when they need it and they appreciate it,” McClure said.