Think about this: it's a cold and blustery winter day with snow piling up by the minute. You're homebound for some reason having to entirely rely on others to either pick you up to go grocery shopping, or to have someone shop for you and then drop it off.  In Washburn County alone, there are from 100 to 150 people per day who fit this profile. No one looks forward to being old or alone. Since there is so much in life we cannot control, it's nice that there are people who have caring hearts to come alongside to help.

The Washburn County Unit on Aging Elderly Nutrition Program office is located at 850 W. Beaverbrook Avenue. Both employees and volunteers help to provide this valuable service to our residents.

According to the effervescent Nutrition Program Director, Natalia Del Monte, it is vitally important to make sure a daily meal is provided to seniors in need. This meal helps keep our senior community members remain living independently in their own homes and communities as long as possible.

Natalia is the head of the nutrition program that provides not only eat together meals for each of the four Senior Centers, but she's also in charge of the home-delivered meals. She is the one who organizes the program, the food, all the volunteer drivers, and meals to everyone in Washburn County as long as they need them.

Thanks to the Focus for Life newsletter, which is delivered monthly to all Washburn County residents as an insert in the Weekender Newspaper, they are able to include a monthly menu, calendar of events, and senior center activities within each monthly issue. If you do not receive the Weekender and would like to get the Focus, call the ADRC Office at 715-635-4460. Focus papers are available at all Washburn County Senior Centers, the ADRC Office, or at Schmitz's Economart in the Deli.

The Focus for Life newsletter is a must-read for adults over age 60.

The paper is also beneficial for family members, caregivers, and disabled individuals under age 60 to help keep them informed of what services are available in the community. Some articles address subjects such as Medicare enrollment, diabetes, brain health, energy assistance, to name a few. In addition to the information, anyone enrolled in the (MOW) program can check the monthly menu to decide if there are days they won't be participating in the meals and can call and cancel for that day.

The Meals on Wheels program offers well-balanced, nutritious meals that are delivered Monday through Friday around lunchtime by friendly, local volunteers. Frozen weekend or holiday meals are also available as needed. Natalia's menus honor fresh produce and honest ingredients by applying a scratch-cooking philosophy and by using vegetables and fruits soon after they are delivered, and menus are always seasonally themed.

It's Sarah Meier, Tina Ludwig, and Mary Lawson (not pictured) of the Spooner meal site, who prepare both the fresh meals for the day, and also the frozen packaged meals that are for weekends and emergencies. With five and a half freezers at their disposal, there are usually 50 to 75 meals waiting for emergencies. These women start their day at 6:30 am, and it isn't long before the cooking smells waft their way through the Spooner Senior Center.

Each nutrition volunteer from meal labelers, packers, dishwashers, to delivery drivers, are eligible to receive a complimentary home-cooked meal on the day they volunteer. The Meals on Wheels volunteer delivery drivers receive mileage reimbursement of fifty-eight cents per mile. Some MOW drivers have a simple thirteen-mile route each time they drive, others logging almost eighty miles on their shift. Anyone interested in joining the Washburn County team of volunteer MOW drivers can choose how often they want to volunteer. Organizations are also encouraged to form a team. The Shell Lake Lions Club has two people every week that drive, but each week the team is different; that way, it's a once-a-month volunteer opportunity. Just about anything can be worked out.

Because Northern Wisconsin is known for its crazy winters when nothing moves due to the weather, frozen meals for the following day(s) can go out with the fresh ones. Take the past double-header week with Thanksgiving on Thursday, and an observed holiday on Friday when no meals went out anyway. Combine it with a wicked snowstorm on Wednesday, requiring the program to close due to inclement weather. This means the center's kitchen was closed Wednesday through Sunday. That can be a long time to wait for a meal. But all it takes is a phone call to the center from an enrolled customer to request a frozen meal for each day the center will not be open. Not too shabby.

Sometimes people sign up for MOWs temporarily due to recovery from an illness or surgery. The service is also provided on a long-term basis to help individuals remain living independently in their homes as long as possible. Natalia or another staff member will visit the home of newly enrolled MOW participants to set up their individualized service plan and share information about the program with a Welcome Packet.

The purpose of the Elderly Nutrition Program since its inception in the early 1970s is to make sure no senior goes hungry, regardless of ability to pay. Senior nutrition services are offered on a donation basis for all eligible individuals. Federal and State sources fund these services, although grant funding does not cover the majority of the expenses. The local tax levy is needed to make up the shortfalls that grants and donations do not provide. Participant donations are welcomed and encouraged, but many cannot afford this expense. Qualified participants are allowed to contribute to what their budget allows.

Family members and the public are welcome to donate on their behalf or purchase gift certificates to help someone they know or as an anonymous donor. It's an excellent gift for those loved ones for whom it is hard to buy. You could consider it a round-about way of taking Grandma out for lunch for a month.

Meals are served Monday through Friday at each of the four centers in - Minong, Spooner, Shell Lake, and Birchwood. There may be times when a center is holding a specific celebration, and the seniors request a particular food in advance, which is no problem.

Each November, the Washburn County Senior Nutrition Program provides two shelf-stable, non-perishable, emergency nutrition kits to each active MOW participant to be used when needed. Each nutrition kit is set to meet the USDA's guidelines for intake for adults and includes a protein product like stew or lasagna in a can, crackers, powdered milk, cookies, and either raisins or applesauce. These emergency meals do not require refrigeration or reheating, so they can be especially helpful during a power outage.

It takes a village to make sure there is hot food available for our senior community members. It takes about 45 volunteer drivers county-wide, six cooks/staff members, various volunteers to package and label the meals, and kitchen helpers. Everyone there works to brighten so many days with a hot meal, and for easily forty percent of the folks, provide a visit from the only person they'll see all day.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer with the Washburn Nutrition Program or any other program that the agency offers for elderly and disabled residents, you can call or stop by the office Monday through Friday between 8:00 a and 4:30 p. Or call them at 715-635-4460.


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