Warm meals and smiles

Published 9:52 am Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Gladys Weyrum, 101, enjoyed a warm meal and visit from Meals on Wheels volunteer Phyllis Meyer Tuesday. The meal is one example of what United Way donations support. -- Michelle Haacke/Albert Lea Tribune

ALDEN — A warm meal in her own home, delivered with a friendly smile.

It’s not something that 101-year-old Gladys Weyrum of Alden takes for granted.

Since signing up for Meals on Wheels in 2002, Weyrum has looked forward to hot lunches, from chicken and rice to Swiss steak and mashed potatoes, every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

“If you can’t cook for yourself, they’re pretty good,” she said.

That warm meal is just one example of what happens with the donations to the United Way of Freeborn County.

Weyrum signed up for the program because she simply couldn’t get out anymore. She suffered from a stroke in July 2001 and then fell and broke her femur later that summer. She spent the next couple of months in the Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea before returning home just after Christmas in 2001.

A widow since 1966, Weyrum lives alone and has no relatives living in Alden. She no longer drives, so Meals on Wheels allows her at least three balanced meals a week without the struggle of trying to get to a grocery store.

While she can still cook a little, she appreciates the service.

Marjean Jacobs helped set tables at Alden's senior dining on Tuesday. -- Michelle Haacke/Albert Lea Tribune

Meals on Wheels, a part of Semcac Senior Nutrition, has been operating in Alden since 1983. Senior Nutrition also provides Senior Dining at Alden City Hall for lunchtime every Monday through Friday. Semcac receives support from the United Way.

The goal of the Senior Dining program is to serve a hot, nutritious noon meal with some diet alternatives. Everyone age 60 and over is eligible for the program. Although donations are accepted, no one is denied a meal because of his or her inability to donate.

According to Alden site manager Cheryl Newman, only a handful of people receive Meals on Wheels each week.

However, she said they get nearly 30 people a day at the congregate meal. She estimates they serve, on average, 6,000 meals annually, if not more.

“We have a very good cook. That’s probably half the reason we get such a good crowd around here,” said Newman.

The meals served up in Alden are prepared at Albert Lea Senior Tower. The menu, which includes everything from honey-glazed pork steaks to turkey chow mein, kielbasa and spaghetti with meat sauce, paired with fruits, vegetables and desserts, rotates about every six weeks or so.

About 30 seniors enjoyed dining at Alden City Hall Tuesday. Alden’s program, which is a part of Semcac Senior Nutrition, serves lunch meals Mondays through Fridays. -- Michelle Haacke/Albert Lea Tribune

Marjean Jacobs, a volunteer and daily diner at Alden Senior Dining, said the most popular dinners are beef and pork roast with potatoes, and the favorite dessert is cream puffs.

While the “typical” Senior Nutrition client is 80-plus years of age, female and living alone, this is not the case in Alden. Newman said they have several men and couples who attend Senior Dining, as well.

For those who cannot cook — or choose not to — Senior Dining is a vital part of some seniors’ nutrition. In fact, the mission of Semcac Senior Dining is to serve “a hot, nutritious noon meal with some diet alternatives.”

Jacobs, who lives alone, said she eats at the congregate dinners 99 percent of the time and admitted to eating healthier by attending Senior Dining versus staying home.

“It’s not much fun to put a roast in the oven for just one person,” she said.

But Senior Dining is about more than just the food.

“The social part is good, too,” said Newman. “If you live alone, it’s nice to have someone to eat with.”

Newman said monthly birthday parties — complete with nickel bingo — and seasonal entertainment, from local high school choirs to music, are other ways they work to enhance not only the dining experience, but the social one, for area senior citizens. They also host guest speakers and put on programs to try and educate members about various topics.

Jacobs has also seen the positive social effects Meals on Wheels has on those who are homebound, as she coordinates volunteers to deliver meals and sometimes makes deliveries.

“They’re always so happy to see you come,” she said. “They’ve got their tables set up with placemats, looking forward to your visit.”

Weyrum agreed.

“I always have to visit a little bit, but I don’t like others to have to wait for their dinners,” she said. “Sometimes they’ll leave me until the end so we can visit.”

Senior Nutrition relies on community support

Although the Southeastern Minnesota Area Agency on Aging is the primary funding source for Semcac Senior Nutrition, the programs in Freeborn County rely heavily on community support — particularly via the United Way of Freeborn County.

“We have had to do a lot of fundraising: locally, city, county, grants,” said Blanche Hollerud, program coordinator with Semcac Senior Nutrition.

Hollerud credits local donations made to United Way and volunteers for their ability to keep serving warm, nutritious meals to seniors each day.

“We utilize many volunteers for both programs,” she said. “I really don’t have an actual count, but to be frank, I don’t think we could run our programs without their dedicated volunteers.”

In 2009, donations to United Way in Freeborn County allowed over 30,000 meals to be served to 520 seniors in group dining settings. These donations also funded 7,055 Meals on Wheels to be delivered to 68 homebound seniors in rural Freeborn County.

Hollerud said Senior Nutrition receives about $4,000 from United Way each year, which is split between congregate dining and Meals on Wheels.

In addition to the Senior Nutrition programs in Alden, Senior Dining and Meals on Wheels are both available in Albert Lea. Meals on Wheels is also available to residents in Glenville and Hollandale. In the past, Hollerud said they have also serviced residents in Clarks Grove and Freeborn.

Semcac: helping all ages

Semcac, based out of Rushford, began as the South East Minnesota Citizens Action Council in 1966. The name was legally shortened to Semcac in 1995.

The goal of Semcac is to assist people to achieve or maintain independence and self-reliance on their own and with the help of community resources.

“We care about the entire community, and we are dedicated to helping people help themselves and each other,” said Linda Lares, Semcac Cultural Diversity Specialist.

According to Lares, the most sought out programs and services in Freeborn County include the energy assistance program, homeless prevention and assistance, the Rural Housing Assistance and Stability Program and outreach services.

She said without the support of the United Way, these services to the community may not be possible.

“The contributions to the United Way are very important to Semcac’s homeless shelter,” Lares added. “The generosity of community donations enable the shelter to provide individuals and families shelter for up to 90 days in one of three shelter units.”

This program doesn’t only provide housing, but also works with each household on completing a budget and growth plan and working daily with staff to secure permanent housing, enabling them to transition back into the community.

The financial literacy class also assists households with budgeting through education “Dollars & Sense” curriculum.

Semcac serves residents of all ages with a variety of community outreach programs in Freeborn County, as well as Dodge, Fillmore, Mower, Winona, Houston, Steele, Goodhue, Rice, Wabasha and Olmsted counties.

Live United
United Way funds 31 programs in 18 agencies, including Semcac programs, essential for the well-being of the community. Freeborn County’s United Way 2010 campaign ends Dec. 31. To make a contribution to the campaign, please contact United Way of Freeborn County by phone at 507-373-8670 or e-mail info@unitedwayfc.org.