By Carla Lucas

Meals on Wheels has been in the home food delivery business much, much longer than the current restaurant trend. The volunteers from Meals on Wheels have been delivering meals to Chester County's homebound population since 1971, allowing thousands of people to remain independent and in their own homes at a time in their lives when shopping for food or preparing a hot meal would be difficult.

For the homebound, the delivery of a hot meal from a volunteer Monday through Friday is also a good daily safety check and provides the opportunity to talk to someone with each visit. 

Individual chapters of Meals on Wheels of Chester County organize the efforts for specific communities. There are currently 20 chapters in Chester County, with over 600 volunteers making sure  hot meals are delivered to hundreds of homebound residents on 33 delivery routes five days a week. Each chapter raises the funds needed to provide the services, and coordinates their own food providers and volunteers. 

Anyone who is homebound, and unable to prepare a meal for themselves is eligible to receive the meals. There is no age requirement. Meals are provided for as long as there is a need. Meal recipients are encouraged to pay what they can afford for the service, but no one is turned away because of lack of funds. 

Meals on Wheels receives a 55-cent subsidy from the Department of Aging for each meal served to persons over 60. The rest of the funding comes for donations, fundraising, and whatever the meal recipients can afford to pay.

Food providers prepare a well-balanced nutritious meal for the clients each day at a cost of between $2.50 and $4.50 per meal and are individually packaged for delivery. Each meal contains a hot entree, starch, and vegetable, plus a salad, fruit, bread and butter, juice, milk and dessert. To meet the needs of the client, the delivered meal is either diabetic or non-diabetic. The food can also be chopped, if needed.

Each day, a Meals on Wheels volunteer driver picks up the meals from the food provider and delivers them to the clients for the lunch meal, usually between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. 

For communities not covered by a delivery route, frozen meals are available for some of the more rural areas of Chester County. These meals can be picked up in quantity from the Meals on Wheels office in West Chester, and volunteers can deliver them in some areas.

During the winter season each recipient receives a box of shelf-stable emergency food supplies for snow days when deliveries are not available. These were extremely important this past winter and with so many bad weather days the boxes had to be refilled in February. 

There are a variety of opportunities to volunteer with individual Meals on Wheels chapters. Those wanting to deliver meals are asked to commit a minimum of one day a month and many give more. For people who want to support the organization but are not available or able to deliver meals, volunteer coordinator and other clerical opportunities are available.

The Avon Grove Chapter serves the boroughs of Avondale and West Grove, as well as Landenberg, Jennersville, and Kemblesville. There is also a separate Luther House chapter to serve that community in Jennersville. Their food provider is Ward's Restaurant.

The Kennett Square Chapter runs two routes to serve the residents of Kennett Square Borough, Kennett Township, New Garden Township, East Marlborough Township and Pennsbury Township.  Kendal provides the meals for this chapter. 

The Oxford Chapter takes care of the Oxford, Nottingham, and Elk Township communities. Ware Presbyterian Homes provides the meals.

More information is available on the organization's website at mowcc.org. To request service for a resident or become a volunteer, call 610-430-8500 for details. The office is located at 404 Willowbrook Lane, West Chester, Pa. 

Meals on Wheels of Chester County Statistics

The following statistics are for all delivery chapters of Meals On Wheels of Chester County:

(from the Meals on Wheels website)

For the fiscal year of July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013:

Volunteers: 619

Part-time staff: 5

Members on Board of Directors: 15

Meals served: 67,887

Meals served to persons over 60 years of age: 64,576

Persons Served: 592

Persons served over 60 years of age: 554

Total cost of meals: $ 249,230

Total contributions: $ 146,502

Nutritional Service Incentive Program (NSIP) reimbursement per meal for persons over 60 years of age: .$0.55

Total recorded volunteer hours: 19,248

Miles logged byvolunteers: 134,501