March for Meals helps feed homebound seniors’ needs, raises awareness

Gov. John Carney and other elected officials toured CHEER’s current kitchen facility in the Thurman Adams State Service Center in a March for Meals visit. From left, Joe Conaway and David Baker (both former Sussex County Administrators), State Rep. Ruth Briggs King, Gov. Carney and CHEER Executive Director Ken Bock. Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe

GEORGETOWN — James “Jimmy” Carter is among the approximate 800 homebound seniors in Sussex County who receive daily nutrition through CHEER Inc.’s Meals on Wheels program.

Last Thursday, the 79-year-old resident of CHEER Apartments in Georgetown received two special deliveries.

The first one was a hot meal of tuna, soup and sides, hand-delivered to his Georgetown Apartments residence by Delaware Gov. John Carney.

The second, delivered later that day by CHEER, was cat food for his feline friend.

March for Meals, a nationwide initiative geared to raise awareness of the importance of the senior nutrition program, brought local, county, state and federal elected officials to Georgetown March 20-21 to participate in home delivery.

“The mission is to make awareness that we are a service provider within the community that is providing meals to seniors who are too old, too frail … and confined in their homes,” said Florence Mason, CHEER’s Nutrition Services Director. “March for Meals is to raise community awareness, to make everyone see the involvement and what we do, how we do it, and exactly what it’s purpose is.”

Gov. John Carney, left, delivers a meal to 79-year-old Jimmy Carter at Mr. Carter’s residence in the CHEER Apartments residence.

At CHEER, that means producing approximately 1,700 meals daily. Of that about 800 are earmarked for homebound seniors. The other 900 are congregate meals for seniors who gather at CHEER’s activity centers.

March for Meals participants included U.S. Sen. Thomas Carper on March 20 and on March 21 Gov. John Carney, State Rep. Ruth Briggs King, Delaware Insurance Commissioner Trinidad Navarro and Georgetown Mayor Bill West, along with representatives of Sysco, the company that provides CHEER’s bulk truck deliveries of raw food.

Mayor West is among the CHEER volunteers who regularly deliver meals, spiced with conversation and cheer. Volunteers who deliver meals also serve as CHEER’s eyes with wellness checks.

“We’re so glad to have our state representatives here and our elected officials here to see first-hand and experience the Meals on Wheels program,” said CHEER Executive Director Ken Bock.

Gov. Carney’s first stop was Mr. Carter’s apartment. Mr. Carter, who has been receiving meals through CHEER for about 9 ½ years, says the meals are “very nutritious.”

After a tour of the CHEER kitchen facility and two deliveries, Gov. Carney headed off to another event.

“It makes you feel good,” said Gov. Carney. “They give you that look like, ‘You’re the governor!’ So, it’s a little different in that respect. But they certainly appreciate the meal every day and that gets them to open the door and let you in. My thanks go out to the CHEER center and all of the great work they are doing across Sussex County, and we look forward to continuing to support the Meals on Wheels program and their institutional needs to make it happen.”

CHEER Executive Director Ken Bock, right, shares information with elected officials on the urgent need for more kitchen and storage space during a March for Meals tour. From left, Insurance Commissioner Trinidad Navarro, Sussex County Councilman Irwin “I.G.” Burton, Gov. John Carney and CHEER board of directors member Walter Koopman.

In efforts to upgrade its outdated, undersized kitchen quarters in the Thurman Adams State Service Center, CHEER last year launched Cooking for Sussex Seniors. It’s a capital campaign committed to raising approximately $1.7 million for a renovation and expansion of the existing 2,000-square-foot kitchen at CHEER’s Warren & Charles Allen Community Center on Sand Hill Road.

The new 6,400-square-foot kitchen would replace the current kitchen, which was built for production of 800 to 850 meals a day. Much of commercial equipment there is outdated and beyond its service life.

“We have storage problems. We have cooks cooking on top of cooks in the kitchen. We have outgrown the capacity,” said Ms. Mason. “The new kitchen gives us room to grow. And all of us know that Sussex County is growing and is projected to have the most elderly population over 65 within the next five to 10 years.”

“So, it is going to continue to grow. Is it an unmet need in that equation now?” Gov. Carney asked.

“Right now, we are not on a waiting list, thank God,” said Ms. Mason.

Mr. Bock informed Gov. Carney that that while CHEER has never been cited for violation in state public health inspections, inspectors do offer a reminder.

“Their position is: ‘You need more space, or you need to reduce the number of meals,’” said Mr. Bock. “Well, everybody knows what the senior citizen population is, particularly here in Sussex County. We can’t reduce the number of meals or we’d have people who won’t get fed.”

CHEER is about a quarter along in its capital campaign. The state pitched in $200,000 in the current fiscal year Bond Bill. Another request is forthcoming in the budget now being formulated.

CHEER recently requested a match of $400,000 from Sussex County, over the next two fiscal years. Grants from foundations and other organizations are being sought along with donations from individuals and other groups.

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