For 33 years, Mary Srack delivered hot, nutritious lunches to Clay County residents who were unable or reluctant to fix meals themselves.
Srack was one of many volunteers who drove a route for Northland Meals on Wheels.
She gave up her route in 2010 to care for her husband. When he died in 2011, Srack’s health began to deteriorate as well.
“I was eating badly,” Srack recalled. “I didn’t feel well. I had no energy.”
She told her doctor that she tried to make herself cook but just couldn’t do it.
“Would you eat if a meal came to you ready and warm?” Srack’s doctor asked her.
That’s when the former Meals on Wheels volunteer started receiving the kind of lunches she used to deliver to others. And she began to feel better.
Now 88, Srack was not only a longtime volunteer with Northland Meals on Wheels but also with Northland Shepherd’s Center. From her perspective, the July 1 merger of the two organizations is a good fit.
“The Northland Shepherd’s Center wants to meet all the needs of older adults — and eating is one of them,” Srack said.
Srack served on the center’s board of directors for 11 years. Since its founding in 1990, the Northland Shepherd’s Center has offered programs and services to help older adults lead active lives, stay independent and remain in their homes.
When the Northland Shepherd’s Center agreed to add Meals on Wheels to its programs, Brenda Dunn, volunteer coordinator, and Terry Tipton, programs director, drove routes to see for themselves what Meals on Wheels was all about.
“It gave me a good chance to see clients’ needs,” Dunn said.
All those who receive meals were mailed a letter explaining the benefits of the merger and a brochure about the Northland Shepherd’s Center.
Dunn said she expects the merger to help the meals recipients find out about programs and services of the center.
“We’ve already had a call from a client needing a home repair,” Tipton said.
Northland Meals on Wheels was founded in 1973 and is based at North Kansas City Hospital. The hospital prepares the meals at a cost of $2.75 a meal and donates office space and equipment for two part-time Meals on Wheels staff members.
Volunteers deliver the meals Monday through Friday. A meal costs $3.25, and recipients pay for a month’s worth of meals in advance.
It’s well worth the cost, Srack said.
“I started eating healthier — I wasn’t fixing any fruits or vegetables before,” she said.
Srack said she now enjoys a variety of food: pork, fish, chicken, sliced roast beef, pasta, pot pies.
Recently, volunteer Robin Ayers knocked on Srack’s door with a meal of bowtie pasta and meatballs, green beans and carrots, applesauce, bread and butter, milk and a slice of angel food cake.
Srack said she starts eating the hot food around 2 p.m., and the meal makes up most of the food she eats in a day. She admits to supplementing the nutritious fare with a daily indulgence of ice cream.
Feeding those who are unable to provide proper nutrition for themselves was the reason Meals on Wheels was founded. Although recipients of meals are usually older adults, age is not a factor in qualifying to participate in the program.
“Our service is based on need,” said Ellen Hoyt, executive director of Northland Meals on Wheels.
Recipients must have a medical reason that can be verified by a doctor. Need is sometimes short-term — for example, recovery from an illness, surgery or a fall. Or it can be an ongoing need — such as a change in the household, physical limitations of arthritis or other chronic conditions, or the demands of caring for a seriously ill spouse.
“Mom passed away in July of last year,” said Bob Martens, whose father lives in Oakview. “We needed some help getting good meals for Dad.”
His father began receiving the meals in August 2016.
Northland Meals on Wheels can care for as many as 185 recipients in southern Clay County. Currently, there’s a waiting list of 50. Once an individual’s medical need has been confirmed, then space on a route must be available. Sixteen routes serve an average of 12 individuals per route.
Drivers often find their recipients waiting eagerly for their arrival.
Fred Walker and his German shepherd, Max, greet Patte Bahl when she delivers the meal on Mondays. Walker lives on 20 wooded acres in rural Kansas City, North, and looks forward to the daily visits — as does Max. Bahl always brings a dog treat for him along with the meal for Walker.
“I appreciate the volunteers, and I like the convenience,” Walker said.
Bahl is the immediate past president of Northland Meals on Wheels and has driven a route for 22 years.
“It’s so much more than a meal for many,” Bahl said. “It’s the personal touch.”
Ginny and Jim Specker of Gladstone have been driving a route for five years.
“I like meeting the people,” Jim Specker said. “It gives them a little lift. They look forward to our coming.”
And some have no one else to visit them, he said.
Ginny Specker drives, and her husband takes the meals to the door. They calculate the route is 25 miles round trip and lasts about an hour and a half.
Their grandchildren have ridden along with them at times and received a warm welcome.
“They love seeing the kids,” Jim Specker said.
Taking meals directly to seniors has brought the Northland Shepherd’s Center full circle.
For years, the center has provided transportation, called “the food van” by riders, to take seniors grocery shopping twice a month. A personal grocery shopping service also is available for the homebound.
Those who participate in the life-enrichment programs are served breakfasts and lunches at the center.
Recently, taco salad and cake were on the menu for Learning & Laughter participants. About 50 older adults arrived at 9 a.m. to enjoy a light breakfast. Bingo, music and socializing were part of the fun.
LaVerne Pulliam, 94, of North Kansas City, has been attending Northland Shepherd’s Center activities for 10 years.
“In one word — companionship. I come for the companionship,” she said.
Pulliam came to Learning & Laughter prepared, not only for a good time, but for a good meal now and later. She brought her own take-home bag for the salad and cake she didn’t eat.
“The food is always excellent, and there’s plenty of it,” she said.
Fixed incomes are a constant consideration at the Northland Shepherd’s Center. Free-will donations of $5 and $10 are suggested for the different programs. But the average donation is $2.25, Tipton said.
The Northland Shepherd’s Center is operated as a nonprofit. It depends on donations, grants, fees and its own fundraising efforts to keep the doors open.
Clay County Senior Services, for example, has provided funds to both the Northland Shepherd’s Center and the Northland Meals on Wheels program.
“Proper nutrition is a basic need and a priority funding area for our organization,” said Tina Uridge, executive director.
The benefit of Northland Shepherd’s Center taking on the Meals on Wheels program is that the home-delivered meals will complement the range of services already being offered by the center, and the meals program will have access to a large pool of volunteers already committed to the mission, she said.
Meals on Wheels, she said, is a cost-effective way to help seniors remain in their homes.
“A daily visit from the volunteer delivering the meal can reduce a senior’s loneliness and provide a wellness check for any changes in the environment or condition that should be reported,” Uridge said.
For more information
Northland Shepherd’s Center, 4805 N.E. Antioch Road, Suite 9, Kansas City; 816-452-4536, www.northlandsc.org
By the numbers
In 2016, Northland Meals on Wheels:
▪ Served 301 clients
▪ Delivered 41,177 meals
▪ Had 137 volunteers donate 7,502 hours