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Delivering meals and smiles

Volunteers bring hot food to homebound seniors

Posted: June 21, 2009 9:59 p.m.
Updated: June 22, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Mike Crone, makes a delivery on April 21 in Newhall. Crone has been volunteering in the SCV Senior Home Delivered Meal program since August 2008.

 
Every Tuesday, Tom Schmidt of Canyon Country makes house calls. He's not a doctor, but he brings something very important to the homebound seniors he sees on his weekly treks - hot meals and a warm hello.

Schmidt is one of 39 volunteers in the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center's Home Delivered Meals program, which provides a lunch time repast to more than 350 seniors in a 450-mile radius, ranging from Val Verde to the San Fernando Valley.

His first stop is a mobile home park in Canyon Country, the home of Noella Kimlin, 72. Kimlin has received the meals for five years, after a stroke left her in a wheelchair and unable to shop or cook for herself.

With no family in the area, on some days, Schmidt is the only person Kimlin will see.

"It's good food and a wonderful service," Kimlin said. "The volunteers are great. It's nice to see them. They always bring a smile to my face."

Funded in combination by the Older Americans Act and private fundraising efforts by the nonprofit center, a $2.50 donation for each meal is suggested, though not mandatory and usually not collected.

Clients, such as Ed Marchello, are often signed up for the program on the referral of family members and physicians.

"I'm not sure who suggested or requested this program for me, but it's very nice and helpful," Marchello, 88, said. "I like the food.
It's tasty."

According to center director Brad Behrens, about 60 percent of home delivered meal recipients are very low income and the need is increasing.

"We are growing at least 10 percent every year and the fastest growing segment is those over 85. We have seven to 10 new seniors going on our list every week," Behrens said. "This program allows seniors to stay in their homes, instead of being institutionalized and going on the public dole."

Production starts early in the morning, with workers preparing the nutritionist-designed meals. The hot portion, with entrees that range from chicken fajitas to baked fish, includes protein, starch, and a vegetable laid out in plastic-topped carton. The cold components - milk, juice, and a little something sweet for dessert - are served in a paper bag.

After meals are loaded into the nine specially-outfitted trucks, volunteer drivers leave the center between 10 and 10:15 a.m. to start deliveries. Schmidt asked for his route to be in Canyon Country, so he could be with "his people."

The former nuclear engineer was laid off from the aerospace industry after 35 years, and he's using the early retirement in the best way he knows how.

"This is the most rewarding thing I've done with my life and it's because of people like Ruby and Manny," he said.

Ruby Castell, 82, gets meals five times a week. She decided she needed the additional support from the program after tearing her rotator cuff last year, which prohibited the perky senior from cooking and shopping like she used to.

Her favorite meal is the stuffed bell peppers. She could do without the spinach, but appreciates the nutritionally balanced meal.

"It really helps," Castell said. "I didn't always eat lunch before. This is much better for me."

At the home of Manuel "Manny" Denault, 71, Schmidt is first greeted by Shadow, a 16-year old black-and-white mixed-breed dog.

The name is appropriate, as he spends most of his time sitting next to his owner, whose mobility is limited by a degenerative spine condition.

Schmidt petted Shadow tenderly, giving the dog a biscuit before he delivered Denault's meal on a TV tray next to his recliner.

Denault looked at the pork chop meal with a smile. In the year Denault's been receiving home delivered meals, he's enjoyed every one.

"I haven't had one meal delivered that I didn't want to eat, and it's a good feeling to know I will eat at least once a day. I used to eat less than that," he said.

Even better is the service.

"These volunteers are wonderful people," Denault said. " I think it's really special for them to take the time to deliver food and spend time with us they way they do."

For more information on the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center Home Delivered Meals program, contact Zertihun Abdulkadir (or "Z") at (661) 259-9444.

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