By Lawrence Belanger
Local Journalism Initiative
Community organizations across Quebec are promoting “Meals on Wheels Week,” as part of their public awareness and outreach efforts. The program delivers hot meals to the doors of senior citizens 2-3 days a week for a small monthly fee. Sylvie Gilbert Fowlis, executive director of Lennoxville. And District Community Aid, sat down with The Record to talk about their local program and the impact of Meals on Wheels in our community.
“We have three Meals on Wheels kitchens,” details Fowlis. Besides their Lennoxville area kitchen, which operates on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, Lennoxville Community Aid also supports kitchens in Waterville (Tuesdays and Thursdays) and North Hatley (Mondays and Wednesdays). Their meals aren’t small or reduced either, with four courses for each delivery. “It’s soup, dessert, a main course, and salad,” says Fowlis, “so it’s huge you know, it’s a great meal.”
Meals on Wheels isn’t restricted to low-income seniors and is meant to serve as a broader support system. “It’s not a matter of income,” explains Fowlis in her office. “Our aim is really to help them keep a good quality of life and maintain, you know, a healthy life so that they can stay at home longer.” While it does provide relief with a low-cost food source, it also eases the burden on individual seniors and their caregivers of having to prepare meals seven days a week. A family member might sign them up for Meals on Wheels for their recovery after surgery, or even just as a nice gesture.
Not having to cook 1-3 as many meals a week allows for more time for self-care such as a walk, says Fowlis. “It’s a nice way to get to eat meals you don’t [normally] cook for yourself,” she adds.
Dietary restrictions and needs are also considered. When someone signs up for the program, Community Aid asks about allergies and health needs, and Fowlis says they’re upfront with them if a certain need is difficult to meet.
“We are attentive to people,” says Fowlis. For example, “if they’re diabetic, it’s the desert that changes.” She continues: “if they have allergies to certain foods, we try as much as possible to you know, keep them away from that, or we’ll give them an alternative.” Vegetarians are also accommodated in the program, and many seniors are opting to avoid red meat.
The program is about more than just providing hot meals to the elderly of Lennoxville, North Hatley, and Waterville, providing a sense of connection when many elderly people are feeling isolated and alone.
“It’s [about] a volunteer popping in and saying ‘hello to you today, how are you?’,” says Fowlis. She explains how, “for some seniors, it’s one of the few human contacts that they have for the day…so it’s comforting.” More than that, Meals on Wheels volunteers can even be the first people to notice signs of trouble, providing a lifeline to a person in danger.
When making a delivery, “if they don’t answer the door or something like that,” volunteers will try to contact the person, and if there isn’t an answer, Fowlis explains that they have an emergency contact.
With volunteers and cooks starting their day as early as 7:30 a.m. the program is a testament to the dedication and generosity of those who are committed to supporting their neighbours in need. It takes a lot of people to build a team of volunteers for the three Meals on Wheels programs at Community Aid. “We need a nice bank of volunteers,” explains Fowlis. At Lennoxville, they have two cooks who are paid for their time but often need a couple of volunteers in the kitchen to prepare the meals, one of whom also cooks for the Waterville kitchen.
“We also need a team of volunteers who delivers the meals,” she continues. Each week, Fowlis explains that it’s not necessarily somebody doing all three days, and it can be a different team each time. “We’re quite open to [our] volunteers’ availability.” Some volunteers like to have the same route so they can build familiarity with the people on it. Some have only specific dates they can volunteer. Others are in the bank to be called on a case-by-case basis.
Meals on Wheels provides meals to roughly 60 people in Lennoxville, 15 in Waterville, and 10 in North Hatley. Exact numbers fluctuate throughout the year as people’s needs change. Meals cost $5.75, and people 65 and older in these areas can sign up for one, two, or three of them a week by calling Lennoxville Community Aid at (819) 821-4779. Interested volunteers can call the same number or email firstname.lastname@example.org.