The last home delivered meal was provided to a Nevada resident by Nevada Meals on Wheels program volunteers on April 27.
Started 39 years ago as a joint venture between volunteers, a board of directors and the then-Nevada City Hospital, the need for the service was great when the program began. At times, more than 60 meals a day were delivered to local residents. But the need has declined to a dozen or fewer per day, board secretary Linda Chesnut said.
The Home Health Department of the city hospital took meal orders, cancellations, payments and attended to the business between the recipients and the dietary department until 1984 when the board hired Chesnut as a bookkeeper. Chesnut has been keeping the books for 28 years and has delivered more than her share of meals in those years.
Meals were delivered Monday through Friday -- including any holiday that fell on those days. "It's sad to say, but sometimes the person delivering the meals would be the only person some saw on Christmas or Thanksgiving Day," Chesnut said.
In all of those 39 years, due to the caring volunteers of the community, not one day was missed -- no matter the weather, Chesnut said.
Today, other organizations who have access to funding have stepped up to fill the need for this service in the community. The home delivered meal service through the Vernon County Senior Center is one that has been popular and successful.
The Senior Center has agreed to accept Meals on Wheels recipients into their program starting May 30. The Meals on Wheels board feels their recipients will be treated with respect and can expect the same quality of meals they have received from Nevada Regional Medical Center for 39 years.
The Meals on Wheels board will be disbanded at the end of May. Chesnut said she hopes the organization's remaining funds will be distributed throughout the community.
The volunteers have kept the program strong. Some are third-generation deliverers. They started out as children going with their parents or grandparents to deliver meals and are now volunteers themselves.
Such was the case with Chesnut and her children. Chesnut and a friend would deliver together and during the summer, letting their children take the meals up to the doors.
Some customers got to be friends with the children. Chesnut mentioned a woman who lived on Alma Street who liked her children so much she had "school pictures of them on her icebox."
Another client always gave the kids a piece of candy; even youngsters that weren't old enough to carry a meal knew that was the house where they got sweets, Chesnut said. Her son Budd has been delivering meals as needed for a long time.
Many volunteers have expressed sadness about the decision to discontinue the program, but the Vernon County Senior Center welcomes them into the fold. The meals need to be delivered just the same as always, just from a different place. There will be some other differences, too, Vernon County Senior Center Coordinator Angie Daniels said.
Daniels said the biggest difference will be that the senior center only serves people over 60 years of age. She added that as long as there is a qualifying individual in the household, their spouse or a disabled family member of any age who lives in the home can also be served by the program.
Meals for a qualifying client are available for a donation. A client's spouse or disabled relative is asked to pay the cost of the meal. Each client is sent a statement of services at the end of the month.
"It is not a bill," Daniels said. Average cost of a meal is $7.48 and the average amount of a donation is $1.17, she said.
Most of the cost difference is covered by charitable donations from the community. The senior center also serves the entire county, not just city residents. And anyone can ride the OATS bus to the center for a meal.
Daniels said the senior center is serving about 65 home delivered meals right now, having already absorbed most of Meals on Wheels' clients.
During March, the center delivered 1,594 meals. The nutritionally-balanced meals provide one third of an adult's daily nutritional requirements and will be delivered for the lunch hour Monday through Friday.
The senior center does not deliver on holidays or during hazardous driving conditions. Daniels said she always calls each client when delivery is not possible.
People who use the service may request a weekend meal in advance and it will be delivered freshly frozen on the Friday before. All meals are made fresh in the kitchen at the center. A staff of one full-time cook, two part-time cooks and several volunteers and community generosity make the program possible.
Daniels said they can always use more volunteers for cooking or delivery. "We would not survive -- this facility would not exist without our volunteers," she said.
Daniels said the center uses the volunteer services offered by US Bank and Wilkinson Pharmacies for deliveries, but they "are trying to tap every resource we can."
"We are happy to provide this service. It's vital to so many people. Some of the longtime volunteers are ready for a rest, but many new ones have already signed up," Daniels said. "There is always room for more."
To learn more about the home delivered meals program, or volunteer to deliver meals or make a donation, call Daniels at (417) 667-5847.