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The Meals on Wheels program at Columbus Community Hospital serves more than just seniors and individuals who are recovering from surgery.

Meals on Wheels is a nationwide program geared toward delivering meals to various individuals in the community, particularly for seniors and physically handicapped adults. Columbus Community Hospital has been providing the program for more than 31 years.

The program is open to the general public for $5.77 per day and deliveries take place every Monday through Friday.

The meals, which commonly consist of meat, potatoes, vegetables, dessert, bread and milk, are prepared every morning at the hospital before being picked up by volunteers.

“We try to meet a third of their nutrient needs each day,” said Debra Moore, director of nutrition services at Columbus Community Hospital, who oversees the Meals on Wheels program.

Moore said the meals could also be tailored to meet the needs of participants in many ways, such as reducing the amount of sodium or sugar, as well as giving alternative choices to meet their preferences.

The volunteers consist of parishioners from 10 area churches, including St. Bonaventure Catholic Church. All of the churches take turns each week to volunteer, covering eight routes a day and visiting an average of six to 12 private homes per route.

Volunteers oftentimes travel in pairs per route, one being the driver and the other the navigator.

“It’s just helping somebody else,” said Jane Tooley, a Columbus resident who has been volunteering for the program for more than four years with her husband, Joe. “And now we have the time to do it… We just want to help out as much as we can.”

Volunteers are definitely being put to good use. In 2017, the program averaged over 1,000 trips per month, according to Moore.

She said seniors who are living alone or individuals recovering from surgery oftentimes can’t prepare their meals, so the program helps ensure they receive well-balanced diets.

“If you are a recent widow, you probably won’t cook that much food for yourself or you don’t know how to cook,” she said. “Or if you’ve had surgery or other health issues, maybe it’s more difficult for you to cook or to get groceries.”

The Tooleys said the smiles and appreciation they receive from the people they serve are what makes the experience worthwhile.

“They’re always so appreciative when you bring it to them,” Joe said. “They are all waiting for you. They are hungry, and they know it's coming.”

Moore said volunteers visit 48 to 60 homes a day delivering food, adding she’s impressed by their dedication even through harsh weather.

“There are (times) where it can be cold, icy, snowy and rainy, and they still show up to do their jobs, so that is much appreciated,” she said.

People who are interested to sign up for Meals on Wheels are advised to call 402-562-4466. Those wanting to volunteer for the program are encouraged to reach out to program coordinators at area churches.

Natasya Ong is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at natasya.ong@lee.net.

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