Herb Durant describes the Meals on Wheels program as a “life changer.”
Herb retired two years ago after working in the aerospace industry for 35 years. Recently he started having some medical problems which made it difficult to get out to buy groceries on some days. Herb lives independently and does not have family close by. After searching online, he learned about the Senior Services department at Archway and connected with a couple of programs, including Meals on Wheels.
“It has relieved so much stress from me. It is hard to cook for one person and buy stuff for one person. Some days I could not get out, so I found myself not eating properly. Meals on Wheels has been perfect for me. The portions are perfect and most of the stuff is so good. It has really improved my quality of life.”
Celebrating 50 Years
Herb is one of the thousands of people who have benefited from Meals on Wheels over the last five decades. In the early days of what was then called the Matsqui-Sumas Abbotsford (MSA) Community Services, research studies were conducted to determine the needs of seniors in the community. The service launched in 1972 in partnership with the Abbotsford Lion’s Club and has since expanded with new sponsors and vendors coming on board.
Allee Thammavong, coordinator for Meals on Wheels, explains the enduring need for the program despite living in the age of Uber Eats and Door Dash.
“While there are delivery options, the costs would quickly add up and many of our clients are not comfortable with technology. We take orders over the phone which makes it more accessible for many.”
While clients may come looking for help with meals, staff often connect them to other services within Archway’s Senior Services department.
“Archway has a hub of other resources that we can connect them to. Seniors often need many resources including health related support and social activities,” said Allee.
“Before being connected with our programs, some seniors were very isolated, especially over COVID. They have not necessarily made the leap to social media or even texting, so they are being left out of a lot of conversations.”
Fostering Independence & Nutritious Options
Meals on Wheels helps clients to live independently in their own homes for much longer than they could without accessible meals.
Herb shared that during COVID it is so much easier, especially with underlying health issues, to have a nutritious meal delivered to your doorstep than go to a grocery store and hang around people too long. Herb has found the service so helpful that he brought it to the attention of his family doctor.
Some clients report they were able to recover at home after being discharged from a hospital because of the meal delivery. 40% of chronically ill patients reported they would have been back in the hospital due to poor nutrition if they had not had access to Meals on Wheels.
The program also helps caregivers have some respite, with a few even being able to take a holiday due to the service.
Over the past 50 years, volunteers have delivered hundreds of thousands of meals to those unable to prepare food for themselves.
In 1972, the program served 914 meals per year. Today, Meals on Wheels delivers approximately 1,000 meals to more than 70 people each month. While the majority are older adults, there are also clients with mobility challenges that cannot cook or shop for themselves.
Meals are delivered up to four times a week from Mondays to Thursdays with clients selecting how many meals they want from a rotating menu. Options include full meals, soup and desserts which can be ordered fresh or frozen. The items are prepared by Save on Foods on Sumas Way and Mae’s Elite Foods in Chilliwack; both long-term partners.
Participants pay $8 per meal and $3.50 for sides, with some meals being subsidized through the Archway Food Bank for clients living on low incomes.
“The Archway Food Bank has been a vital partner, providing monthly food hampers to our clients in need, with extras like veggies, meat, dairy and hygiene essentials,” said Josh Burton, the Senior Services Supervisor.
Herb prefers fresh meals at the beginning of the week and frozen on Wednesdays to carry him through to the next delivery.
“There are a couple of meals, like the potato bacon soup and chicken cordon bleu, that I have never had in my life, and I have really come to like. I do not care much for the Tuna Sandwich though, I am not a tuna guy.”
Volunteers are the Lifeline
As with many of the Senior Services programs at Archway, it is the volunteers who are the lifeline of programs like Meals on Wheels. Since the inception of this program 50 years ago, volunteers have been committed to this program, and really understood the needs and wants of the clients.
“Volunteers make my job more eventful and livelier. Their feedback also helps me track our clients,” said Allee.
In addition to receiving meals, the other benefit for participants is building connections with the volunteers. These volunteers play a vital role in checking in with the clients. Sometimes a volunteer may come back to the office and let Allee know that a client was not feeling too well or did not answer the door. Allee will then make a call and check in with the client. For some clients this may be the only outside interaction they have with someone during their week and that five-minute chat is something they look forward to.
“I see the clients that I deliver to at least two times a week. It provides a sense of companionship for a brief period. It allows the clients to feel that they are being thought about, shared Carl Beaton, a volunteer with Meals on Wheels since 2018.
“Meals on Wheels not only provides a meal service but also volunteers that can share their time and efforts to the clients each week, which makes it all worth it.”
While fortunate to have some long-term volunteers, the program is always on the lookout for new volunteers. After a screening process, volunteers are asked for a two-hour weekly commitment.
Herb would eventually like to start volunteering for this program once he is able to, “I’ve got all the time in the world now.”
Despite running successfully for so many years, there are always challenges that come up. Food and gas costs are at an all-time high right now and staff are working with their vendors to keep prices as consistent and as affordable as possible for clients.
“We have wonderful vendors, but they eventually have to pass along some of the costs,” said Burton. “We are looking to subsidize more meals through donations to relieve some of the economic stress seniors on fixed incomes are facing.”
The program is also preparing for an inevitable increase in demand to keep up with the aging population of the Fraser Valley. The most recent Census Canada report covering 2011-2021 shows that the senior population in the Fraser Valley (Langley to Hope) has already increased from 19% to 23%.
Allee shares, “it has been a revelation to see how many people rely on this service. We are all going to be seniors one day, and you never know when a medical crisis could affect a loved one.”
“We’ve been here for 50 years and we’re looking forward to building new connections over the next 50 years.”