Forty-three years ago, in 1970, a retired nurse in Rehoboth Beach heard of a a local elderly couple who died of malnutrition because they weren’t able to get help.
“She started fixing meals for the elderly people in her area,” said Kathy Keuski, current Lewes-Rehoboth Meals on Wheels director. “That’s how it all started.”
Picture yourself living alone, a senior citizen, without nearby family, and you are disabled and can’t shop for and prepare meals for yourself. You sign up and start receiving Meals on Wheels. You are able to stay in your own home. Now, picture that you fall one day and have no way to call for help.
“We sometimes see people like this,” Keuski said, recently. “When our volunteer drivers delivering meals run into a situation like this, they are trained in how to handle it,” Keuski said. “The volunteer will try to deliver the daily meal that morning, and, if there is no response, no one to take the meal, and no sounds or voices coming from the house, they will report this to our Meals on Wheels office. Workers there check the files and see who could be contacted, family, friends, or neighbors, to discuss the matter and decide what to do. We also see to it that other volunteer drivers [maybe even staff members who are trained and able to cover as volunteer drivers if needed] continue to try to deliver a meal. Once it seems clear that there will be no response, with the family’s or other’s OK, we get help into the house and assess the situation. If medical help is needed, we call 911 and wait there at the house, until the ambulance gets there.”
People in these kinds of situations often say afterwards, “It was scary at first, but I knew you would help me when I didn’t come to the door.”
Meals on Wheels is an independent, nonprofit service run with federal and state funding. They also hold fundraising events. Although many agencies and organizations are feeling the financial pinch now, Lewes-Rehoboth Meals On Wheels is still able to take on newcomers without a waiting list.
“We have stepped up our local fundraising,” Keuski said. The next one coming up is our popular annual golf tournament at the Rehoboth Beach Country Club, this year held Sept. 22-23. It starts Sunday evening with a dinner and auction. The game is on Monday. It’s $75 for the dinner and open bar. And, it’s $195 for the dinner and golf.
“We raised $60,000 last year from this,” said Keuski. “Our yearly budget is $600,000 and the golf tournament, and other fundraising events such as our annual mail appeal and spaghetti dinners help us in meeting our needs.”
Keuski has surrounded herself with dedicated co-workers in their small offices off Route One and Route Nine in Lewes. All are outreach workers, meaning that they participate in the full-time project of assessing client needs and status. This has to be done every six months. Staff member Dan Lawrence determines client eligibility for coverage and keeps track of meal deliveries. He also does the route sheets that show drivers what route to take each day. Currently there are 13 routes for the volunteer drivers with approximately 11 to 20 names on each route sheet.
Morgan Fabber does the background checks on the volunteers and trains them. She sets up routes, assigns the drivers, and does a monthly schedule of assignments. Tina Wright is the bookkeeper who does payroll and other financial work. She will have been on the staff for 21 years in August. Keuski will have been director there for 22 years in November.
Jim McDaniel works as a part time outreach worker and has been with the program for 18 years. Joanne White, is the program's Registered Dietitian, who conducts nutrition screenings on all clients and provides nutrition counseling to those in need. She has been with the program for 16 years.
”We don’t just deliver meals,” Keuski said. “When clients need a wheelchair ramp or a roof fixed or something like that, we look into it for them. Sometimes, we are even able to get the work donated.” Harbor Healthcare & Rehabilitation in Lewes has prepared the Meals on Wheels meals for 25 years and most clients like the food, talking about it when they see their driver or are in touch with the office. Currently, there are over 100 local Meals on Wheels volunteers. Most are drivers.
“We have the most dedicated drivers,” Keuski said. “They are mostly retired seniors, but we have people of all ages. In addition, we have some businesses such as WSFS Bank in Lewes and Brandywine-Assisted Living at Seaside Points in Rehoboth Beach whose employees take turns delivering the meals.”
More than 111,400 meals, hot and cold, were delivered last year. There are currently 280 or so clients over a year’s time. “There are some who just need temporary help,” Keuski said. “Maybe they’ve had surgery, for example. In addition to driver training, our new drivers usually ride with an experienced driver to get an idea of how Meals on Wheels works,” said Keuski. “Dan does our route sheets and he does a terrific job of taking volunteers from point A to Point B. The way he sets up the delivery routes, it makes sense.”
“I feel so strongly about what we are doing, I’ll probably work as a volunteer after I retire,” Keuski said. To contribute financially or sign up to be a volunteer driver, contact Meals on Wheels, Lewes and Rehoboth Beach, at 32409 Lewes Georgetown Highway, Lewes, 302-645-7449 and www.beachmeals.com.