I recently met a charming lady, Sister Arlene Semesky, RSM, who is the Site Supervisor for Meals on Wheels of Chemung County at 150 Fox St. in Elmira, NY. Sr. Arlene told me about her job where her staff of 200 dedicated volunteers serve over 250 clients each day. Thirty-four volunteers are needed daily to deliver a hot meal or a hot lunch/cold supper between 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Frozen meal packages are provided for those who need the service over the weekend.
There are several reasons why Sr. Arlene and her staff are regarded as the best in the country.
The food is prepared and cooked on site daily by the staff. Pre-cooked food is not used. In addition to regular meals and low fat/low cholesterol meals, special meals for diabetic clients are prepared individually. One man whose diabetic numbers were extremely high ate only specially prepared diabetic meals for three months. His doctor noted that his patient was in the normal range after that short time through the care given him by Meals on Wheels.
Another male stroke victim was unable to swallow regular food. The Meals on Wheels staff pureed his food – did you ever have a pureed ham sandwich? Gradually, they added ground meat to his diet. After a short while, the regular meal plan was delivered to him. To the amazement of his family, he was able once again to swallow regular food.
The service given to clients is extraordinary. A male volunteer plans his route so that his last stop is always an elderly lady who lives alone. He always brings a cloth napkin and tableclolth and a candle and sits with her while she has her meal.
When a client has a birthday, he or she is remembered with a cake, a card and a gift. It may be the only remembrance the client receives that day.
A judge will often order offenders to do their community service at Meals on Wheels. A person on the regular staff was heard to say “Sister, I don’t think they should do their community service at Meals on Wheels. We have too much fun here.”
Of course, the volunteers are remembered each day and enjoy a treat such as coffee and cookies when they complete their rounds. They enjoy each other’s company and permanent friendships have been formed.
Each client is asked to pay $4.00 for one meal or $6.00 for two meals each day. The Office of the Aging helps those over 60 years old with their payment. A sliding fee based on income is in place and food stamps are accepted. No one is refused service because of their inabilty to pay.
Sr. Arlene loves her job. It is easy to understand why Meals on Wheels of Chemung County on Fox Street has been designated the Best in the Country.