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Hot food, warm hearts

Community: SCV Senior Center delivers meals, allowing seniors to maintain their independence

Posted: October 3, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: October 3, 2011 1:30 a.m.

SCV Senior Center volunteer home food delivery driver Jackie Cortes counts the spaghetti meals in her truck at the SCV Senior Center that are ready for home delivery to seniors on Thursday.

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Spaghetti and meatballs are on the menu today, which makes the clients along Jackie Cortes’ Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center Home Delivered Meals route very happy.

“I love spaghetti and noodles,” said Ray Acosta, 88, who waited in his garage for Cortes’ arrival on a late Thursday morning. “This is often the only meal I get. It helps me. Otherwise, I don’t know if I would eat or not.”

Acosta is one of more than 300 Santa Clarita Valley seniors who rely on a hot meal delivered to their door up to five days a week. The Home Delivered Meals program is funded by state, federal and local grants, and private donations. While there’s a suggested donation of $3 per meal, clients are not required to contribute financially.
 
No one is turned away.

“I had one lady give me a dollar and change. She said, ‘That’s all I have.’ I said, ‘OK, that’s fine,’” said Cortes, who volunteers as a Home Delivered Meals driver once a week. “Some people pay daily, some people pay weekly, but we never ask for money.”

According to Cortes, a retired bank investigator from Saugus, clients come from all walks of life. She has the East Canyon Country route, which encompasses both older properties in the Sand Canyon area and mobile home parks.

Cortes has been delivering to some clients for years, others on a more temporary basis.

“There was one lady, her stove broke, and she couldn’t afford to have it fixed. It took her about a year to have it fixed, and then she no longer had meals delivered,” she said.

In her eight years as a volunteer driver, Cortes has become close to her clientele. She brings two biscuits for Roxy, the dog of Canyon Country’s Manny Denault, 73, who waits patiently for Cortes inside a gated mobile-home porch.

The rescued black poodle mix gets excited at the sight of Cortes, who pulls the biscuits from her shorts pocket after handing the hot meal to Denault, who is immobile and stationed primarily in a recliner in his modest living room.

Roxy sits at Cortes’ request and crunches happily on a biscuit as Denault looked on with a smile. He has been receiving meals five days a week for four years.

“I used to go days without eating, because I don’t have the strength to make myself something,” Denault said. “I think the food is great, but the people who deliver it are even better. They are very special people. Everyone talks to me and they all love my dog.”

The feeling’s mutual for Cortes. “I get more back from doing this than I ever give. Just knowing that you bring joy to people is special. A lot of them live alone and don’t see or have anyone,” she said. “Bringing meals to seniors allows them to stay in their homes and be as independent as possible.”

For Georgia George, of Canyon Country, the home-delivered meals let her to tend to her husband, who’s recovering from a fourth knee replacement surgery, while avoiding her least favorite place in the home.

“I don’t cook. I only have the kitchen because it came with the house,” George said. “This is great.”

Home Delivered Meals always include a hot main course, which can range from chicken to fish to beef or pasta, plus a cooked vegetable, enclosed in a cardboard and plastic carton. The accompanying brown paper bag usually includes a cold selection of salad or fruit, bread, milk and dessert, which today is tapioca pudding.

Volunteers load food into hot and cold compartments each morning into a specially outfitted truck, which maintains the proper temperature no matter what the outside whether is.

Cortes sees between 35 and 45 clients on her route, which takes about two and a half hours. Each meal is delivered with a personal greeting and a warm smile.

“I try to talk a little bit, but I don’t have a heck of a lot of time. I would love to sit down and chat, but others are waiting for their meals,” she said.

Drivers like Cortes are crucial to the success of the Home Delivered Meals program, according to coordinator Zertihun Abdulkadir.

“The need has increased because there are more seniors in the community, and the economy, too,” she said. “We really need drivers.”

Volunteers must have a clean driving record and will be subject to a background check.

“We’re sending these people to seniors’ homes, so we have to make sure they’re safe,” Abdulkadir

Once cleared for volunteering, drivers receive training on routes, food temperature control and safety, and how to interact with their senior clients. Each shift lasts about three hours.

The most important requirement, however, cannot be taught.

“Our drivers need to have a good heart,” Abdulkadir said.

For more information on volunteering for the Home Delivered Meals program at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center, contact Zertihun Abdulkadir at (661) 259-9444, ext. 114 or email hdm@scvsc.org.
 
For more information on how to donate to the program, visit www.scvsc.org or call (661) 259-9444. The center is located at 22900 Market St., Newhall.

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