Friendship Meals program serves up 18,000 plates a year
By Deb Hadachek Telescope editor
You could call it comfort food.
Every week day, year around, Vicki Henderson, head cook at the Golden Bell Haven in Belleville, prepares some 60 healthy, balanced meals to serve to people at the senior center, or to be delivered to their homes.
But the nourishment goes beyond the food on the plate. For some, the daily meals are an important social activity. For the people who eat at home, it’s a daily smile and hello and a check that they’re well.
“I’ll have volunteers come back from delivering meals and say someone didn’t look very good today, and maybe I should call to have someone check on them,” says Cheryl Eickmann, site manager for the program.
“We are very, very lucky– very lucky–to have such good volunteers,” she emphasizes. “I talk to other programs who have a terrible time getting volunteers.”
The Friendship Meals Program is a cooperative effort of the North Central Kansas Flint Hills Area Agency on Aging, based in Manhattan, and a local organization of churches, the Church People Concerned.
The Area Agency on Aging administers federal grant funds through the Older Americans Act that provides the bulk of the commodities for the meals. Revenue collected for meals goes to them, Eickmann says.
The Church People Concerned is a separate, local group that maintains the building, pays utilities and other operating costs, and owns most of the kitchen equipment. The local organization also helps supplement wages for the paid staff says Jay Kallman, president.
Their resources come from donations, memorial gifts and grants, Kallman said.
Kallman said occasionally someone raises the question on whether the meals program could operate better on its own under local control.
“We wouldn’t be able to operate for long on our own,” he says. “The cost of keeping it open continues to go up.”
Republic County bud gets $14,800 for aging services, but those funds do not go towards the Golden Bell Haven or the meals program unless there’s a request, says Republic County Clerk Kathleen Marsicek. Those funds are administered by Republic County Council on Aging members Joan Grover and Beth Ball. In part, those funds provide a match for the Republic County Health Department to provide care through the Senior Care Act.
The county budgeted $14,000 for the first time in 2017 to reimburse the Area Agency on Aging for health insurance for an employee for the Friendship Meals Program, Marsicek said.
Along with volunteer help and cash donations, youth and organizations around the county also support the Golden Bell with donations of items not provided through the federal funding: condiments, paper towels and napkins, and cleaning supplies, among others.
The facility tries to purchase those items, and perishables like milk and bread locally whenever possible, Kallman says.
“There’s some extra things we purchase, like gravy mix, that we know people like and are comfort food for the elderly,” Kallman says.
“When you get a meal through Friendship Meals, 99 percent of the time you’re getting a non-fried, healthy meal with all the food groups,” he says. “And we’ve got options for diabetics and people with high blood pressure, so that’s not an excuse not to take advantage of the program.”
‘What you can afford’
The suggested donation for a meal for people over the age of 60 or with disabilities is $3.50, “or what you can comfortably afford,” Eickmann says.
“Some people have outlived their money,” she says. “No one pays any attention to what someone pays for a meal. I worry some people pay us more for meals than they can afford.”
While other communities in Republic County no longer have dine-in meal sites, the Friendship Meals Program coordinates with the Republic County Health Department to deliver frozen meals to their clients. Any leftovers are packaged and frozen, and can be purchased for a quick, easy meal on weekends and holidays, Eickmann says. People can pick those meals up at the Golden Bell Haven, or have them delivered if they received Meals on Wheels, she says.
Younger people can also dine in or carry out from the Golden Bell– and are encouraged to do so, says Eickmann. Cost of a meal is $5.25.
Meal sites are required to have an average of 14 people a day dine-in, she says. The Golden Bell’s numbers vary depending on the weather, she says.
“I think people eat better if they eat here,” she says. “But we’re required to have a certain number eat here in order to continue the Meals on Wheels. It’s the people who dine-in who ensure that service is available for the people at home.
“Some sites have closed because they didn’t have enough people dine-in.”
Kallman says anyone with a parent who has utilized the program understands its benefit. He worries when the federal government proposes cutting the Older Americans Act funding, which supports meals programs.
About 40 percent of the federal appropriation for the Older Americans Act goes to nutrition, says the AARP. The AARP says the funding has not kept pace with inflation or the number of Americans reaching the age of 60.
Kallman said the number of meals served a year through the Friendship Meals Program in. Republic County has ranged from 18,000 to a high of 23,000 over the past six years, but normally doesn’t vary much from year to year.
“It’s a rewarding program to be a part of,” he says.
Republic County churches may appoint representatives to the Church People Concerned. current members are Jay Kallman, Evelyn Love, Ruth Rahe, Steve Heiman, Pat Walters, Anita Cline, Judy Uphoff, Betty Larson. To schedule a meal dine-in or delivery, or to reserve frozen meals call the Golden Bell Haven at 785-527-5760.