Meals on Wheels is food on wheels, sort of, but not a food truck. It is hot food delivered to homebound and disabled people who can’t prepare their own meals by volunteers using their own wheels.  And a nice side effect is that the delivery of a meal brings with it a chance for some social interaction and a break to the homebound person’s daily isolation.

I wondered who had the bright idea to deliver hot meals to the homebound, what kind of history the program has, so I did what we all tend to do these days, I googled it. Meals on Wheels has been around longer than you might think. It actually originated in England during WWII during the blitzkrieg on London when so many people’s homes were destroyed and with it, their kitchens. The Women’s Volunteer Service for Civil Defense stepped in and provided food for those people affected by the bombing, and the related activity of also taking meals to servicemen which came to be called Meals on Wheels. After that, around the year 1943, the concept of delivering meals to those unable to cook for themselves turned into what we see today, meals delivered to the homebound, elderly, and disabled.

In the United States this idea caught on in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1954 at the request of a social worker, Margaret Moffat Toy, who pioneered the program there to serve homebound seniors and other shut-ins who did not need hospitalization but needed help with daily independent living.  The idea caught on and now Meals on Wheels are served across the United States and all over the world.

The Muleshoe Meals on Wheels program was incorporated locally in 1984 as witnessed by Marjorie Merritt, Jim Swanner, and Glen Williams. It is a 501c3 nonprofit now under the leadership of Judy Coffman who is head of the Office of the Aging located at the Bailey County courthouse. Requirements can vary slightly from community to community, but to qualify for a meal on wheels here is to live within Muleshoe city limits and be 60-plus years of age. A person can also qualify in certain situations if they are under the age of 60 and are either disabled or recovering from surgery and their doctor requests they be served for a period of time.

Meals are prepared by the Muleshoe Area Medical Center in the hospital’s kitchen under the direction of Roy Anzaldua and are delivered five days a week at a cost of $4 per meal by forty volunteers who use their own transportation. The volunteers also do a wellness check and provide some social interaction with each delivery. While the meals and their nutritional value were the initial reason for the program, it turns out the human contact is equally helpful to someone who seldom gets to interact socially and this improves their quality of life.  All of this helps  people retain their independence and remain at home instead of going to a nursing home or other institution, a plus for that person and for lowering government expenditures, a win-win situation.

Four routes are set up for the forty volunteers who deliver the hot meals Monday through Friday starting at 11:00 and usually finishing in 45 minutes to an hour. Several businesses in Muleshoe supply volunteers to help with  the deliveries by rotating employees to man the routes: Bailey County Electric, Five Area Telephone, United U-Crew, Tolk Station, Calvary Baptist Church, City of Muleshoe, Park View Nursing Home, Accolade, Bailey County Courthouse, and students and employees at Muleshoe High School. Judy also has a list of fill-in volunteers who help when a regular has a conflict. All these people, regulars and fill-ins, are critical to the success of the program and new volunteers are always welcome to sign up.

Meals on Wheels programs qualify for federal aid, but federal aid means you follow federal guidelines. During the Obama administration federal guidelines decided that fresh frozen vegetables had to be served in the meals instead of canned vegetables. And that’s all well and good if your system can handle frozen vegetables in terms of facilities and money. Problems arose trying to meet those guidelines, so Muleshoe opted not to accept federal funds, instead using donations from the families of the recipients, donations from individuals and local organizations, donations and memorials in someone’s honor, and grant proposals to the tune of $7500 a month. The community of Muleshoe has always responded to those needs.

Thanks to Judy Coffman’s leadership and board members Steve Friskup, David Gray, Kris Phillips, Merryl Young, Gary Hooten, and Gayle Richerson, the bumps in the road for the organization in the past have been overcome and the program is doing well. Donations and continued support, however, are always needed and always appreciated.

And as Steve Friskup sees it, Muleshoe has always been and still is a community that takes care of its own. So if you would like to give back by making a donation or volunteering, Meals on Wheels is a good choice.

And that’s a good thing.

Thanks to Steve Friskup and Judy Coffman for their help with this story.