When most people open their front door and find themselves face to face with a uniformed law officer, they probably don’t expect it to be good news.
But last week, deputies with the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department began showing up at homes to bring nutritious food and a degree of companionship to elderly residents who need it the most.
By participating in the Senior Nutrition Program’s Community Champions Week, deputies are reminding local residents their job is to not only protect, but also serve, said corrections officer Courtney Fish, a program volunteer.
“We’re usually in the media when things go wrong, but now we get to do something everyone recognizes as good,” Fish said.
Captain Greg Duke of the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department, who delivered meals throughout the week, said he was surprised as he interacted with residents in a wide variety of neighborhoods being served meals.
“It’s doesn’t matter what part of town you live in or what your background may be,” Duke said. “In every neighborhood, you’ll find people whose resources are stretched and their abilities diminished.”
Duke said the kindness and gratitude of the elderly meal recipients he and fellow officers helped with them for some time.
“When I retire, I know I won’t remember most of the arrests I’ve made,” Duke said. “But what I’ll regret for the rest of my life is not doing more to help a family in need.”
The sheriff’s captain stopped a moment to help another volunteer load a container of food into her trunk before he finished his thoughts.
“If I could go back and do it all again, I’d make sure I did more than my basic duty. I would do more to help someone in crisis.”
Just as importantly, deputies are trying to help the agency that provides those meals recover from two recent, significant setbacks.
About a year ago, Thrive Alliance, a non-profit organization that runs the local Meals for Better Living program, learned that up to 40 percent of its federal funding would be permanently cut, agency program director Shelia Woods said.
Program site manager
Paul Rosselli saw no sense in Washington lawmakers cutting funding for a proven program so vital to the welfare of the elderly.
“It gives people who need help a chance to live where they want to live,” Rosselli said. “It also costs a lot less money than the alternatives.”
Through the program, a home-bound older resident can receive meals for an entire year for less than $1,800. Research also shows that every dollar invested in the meals program can save up to $50 in Medicaid expenses alone, Woods said.
While the Senior Nutrition Program did not reduce the 120,000 meals provided annually to the elderly, it did trim back delivery from 5 days a week to 3, Woods said.
Earlier this year, the program faced another setback when Volunteers in Medicine moved out of its location near Eighth and Jackson streets.
Sale of the building meant that Thrive Alliance, which shared facilities with the health clinic, had to quickly find a new home by the end of February.
The United Way of Bartholomew County stepped forward and provided Thrive Alliance with an area on the west side of its warehouse at 12th Street and Hutchins Avenue, where a meal kitchen was recently constructed.
To help overcome the funding cut, Thrive Alliance is conducting its first March for Meals campaign. Besides gaining community support, the campaign is designed to bring awareness to the widespread problem of senior hunger in Bartholomew, Brown, Decatur, Jackson and Jennings counties.
Woods said three significant facts stand out in the Meals for Better Living’s 2013 client survey:
74 percent said they would probably not be able to stay in their own home if they did not receive their delivered meal.
82 percent said their nutrition has improved since they started receiving the meals.
65 percent said the meal driver is the only person they see most days.
That last fact stands out in the mind of Linda Cavanaugh, who has delivered meals in Bartholomew County since 2012 and currently has 28 clients on her route.
“I’m seeing very lonely people who need a hug and a hot meal,” Cavanaugh said. “Somebody to smile, encourage them, and make them realize that somebody cares.”
Donald Duvall, who has one of the largest meal routes in the Columbus area, agrees.
“Most of these people have no local family at all — maybe a distant cousin who lives two states away,” said Duvall, a Delta Faucet retiree. “I’m usually the only person they see in the daytime.”
“Even if they have family members in town, it may be two weeks or more before they see them,” said Amy Singleton, another volunteer driver.
Beside providing relief from loneliness and depression, the Meals for Better Living meal drivers — who serve the same clients on a regular basis — are also trained to look for signs of failing health, such as a stroke, Woods said.
Health and safety checks are vital because while some home-bound residents may be too proud to complain of their ailments to strangers, others are often afraid they will lose what’s left of their independence if people learn their health is deteriorating,
“We’re always on the lookout ... for their well-being,” Cavanaugh said.
Those checks, which Woods believe sets her organization apart from some other meal providers, also help to establish bonds of trust and friendship between her volunteers and clients.
One health and safety check may have helped save a life when Cavanaugh and a local deputy delivered a meal last Monday.
The recipient was an ailing elderly woman who had just been dropped off at home after undergoing kidney dialysis, Cavanaugh said.
She noticed immediately that the home-bound senior was not hooked up to her portable oxygen machine.
When the volunteer driver asked about it, the woman began to panic, saying she didn’t know where her machine was.
In response, both Cavanaugh and the deputy immediately searched her home, found the medical equipment, and made sure she was properly breathing from it before they left.