East County Meals-on-Wheels feed the body and spirit of local seniors

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Richard Songer has served as a volunteer delivery driver for East County Meals-on-Wheels for eight years, after a legal career as a trial lawyer and judge. Songer and his wife bring meals to seniors on a delivery route around Santee and Lakeside.

Richard Songer has served as a volunteer delivery driver for East County Meals-on-Wheels for eight years, after a legal career as a trial lawyer and judge. Songer and his wife bring meals to seniors on a delivery route around Santee and Lakeside.

“This is a great program,” Songer said, assisting to kick off springtime fundraising efforts benefiting the local Meals-on-Wheels center. The East County Service Center is one among four within San Diego County, with other centers serving senior clients in Metro San Diego, South County and North County. The organization has provided services through its East County center for 42 years, and now serves about 300 area seniors with meals delivered Monday through Saturday, and Sunday meals, if needed, accompanying Saturday’s. The deliveries continue on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Songer described how many of the meal delivery recipients live alone in senior housing. “We bring human contact as much as food” to East County elders, he noted. “And we get more out of it than we give.”

Concurring in that sentiment is Trudy Del Priore, manager of the East County Service Center for Meal-on-Wheels of Greater San Diego, Inc. She recently invited East County government officeholders into temporary service as volunteer food delivery participants, to highlight the program’s stated mission “to support the independence and well-being of seniors.”

On Wednesday, March 23, La Mesa Mayor Mark Arapostathis helped drive meals around on a delivery route including neighborhoods where he grew up. Del Priore found “Dr. A’s” reminiscences and connections to La Mesa seniors to be delightful and at times emotionally touching. 

Later that day, Santee City Councilmember John Minto also participated for his sixth year in meal delivery on a route around the city he serves in office. “I think Meals-on-Wheels is about more than feeding seniors on limited incomes,” Minto said of the day. “When we were at the center, we talked about how much doing this touches us. This reminds us as municipal legislators about what we can do to feed that healing spirit in the community. This is our opportunity to show that we understand how important it is that we support that vital part of their life.”

The City of Santee had proclaimed the month to be “March for Meals,” and the week of March 21-25 to be “Community Champions Week” praising the organization’s work in alleviating the problems of senior hunger and isolation, while further encouraging local citizens to volunteer time with the group.

El Cajon was the site for special deliveries on Friday, March 25, as El Cajon City Councilmember Star Bales rode along to visit seniors on a meal delivery route. Asked about how she got involved, Bales replied, “I had heard about the organization and heard a lot of good stories about what they are doing for seniors here. This is something we do for each other as citizens.” Bales commented on how beautiful the day was, leading into the Easter holiday weekend. She concluded, “I am very proud to have this organization in our community.”

Culmination of the East County Meals-on-Wheels spring fundraising is the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party on Saturday, April 2, hosted by Lantern Crest Senior Living in Santee. The event offers party attendance for 120 guests, with tickets priced at $30 apiece.

Del Priore has been manager of the East County program since September. She had volunteered for two and a half years before that. “This is a wonderful, rewarding opportunity,” she said. “I loved all the clients I was serving. They are truly thankful for what we do.” Indeed, handwritten thank-you cards grace the interior windows around Del Priore’s cubicle.

The group always needs more volunteers, Del Priore disclosed. She encouraged young people needing volunteer credit hours for school, as well as active-duty military troops seeking community service opportunities, to serve as Meal-on-Wheels delivery volunteers. She said that on weekends, several families do deliveries together. Training for volunteers is provided each Tuesday at the center’s El Cajon office, located at 131 Chambers Street, Suite 100.

Persons 60 years of age and up are eligible for the meal delivery services, as are their caregivers. Fees to clients include a one-time startup charge of $35, and then $4 per day for a lunch or dinner package, or $7 per day for both lunch and dinner. All meals include a simple beverage, such as milk, soy milk, juice or bottled water. The menu choices are balanced and considered heart-healthy, with controlled sodium.

Other available services are cat and dog food deliveries once weekly, called Animeals. “This is really good stuff animals like,” Del Priore said, and can be wet or dry pet food. A senior client can also request an in-home pet therapy visit with a trained therapy dog.

Each meal delivery further incorporates a safety check, for seniors’ family members’ peace of mind. If Meals-on-Wheels delivery volunteers spot anything amiss, such as an unanswered doorbell, they report back to the office. Staffers at the office can contact the client’s on-file family member or request that sheriffs check the welfare of that client. Del Priore recounted how during the prior week, the neighbors of a missing client saw the Meals-on-Wheels volunteers and sheriffs, and then were able to tell them that the client had been sent to the hospital. This prevented the sheriffs from breaking into the client’s home for the welfare check.

For ambulatory seniors within walking distance or those who can drive there, meals can be picked up at the center’s storefront during open hours, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., and Saturdays, 9 a.m. through 2 p.m.

“And we wouldn’t be able to provide good, quality meals at $4 if we didn’t have donations,” Del Priore continued. “People should know that any money they give goes straight to seniors.” Subaru of El Cajon was set to give a substantial check to the organization. She also mentioned notable support from Café 67 and Hilltop Deli, and from Island Federal Credit Union, Stanford Court, Sharp Hospice, Sharp Grossmont and other local companies. Some East County businesses allow employees to volunteer for Meals-on-Wheels during work hours.

Del Priore finished, “We’d like to help as many as we can in East County.” More information about East County’s Meals-on-Wheels can be acquired by phoning the direct line at (619) 447-8782 or through links at the website www.meals-on-wheels-org.

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