SWANTON — Everyone loves receiving a valentine.
The Meals on Wheels clients in Swanton were especially enthusiastic upon seeing the decorated foam hearts and jars filled with chocolates on Wednesday.
“Isn’t that nice?” said Fred Greeno, who is 94. He smiled as Rhonda Somers-Fletcher, the Champlain Valley Agency on Aging (CVAA) coordinator for Meals on Wheels in Swanton and Highgate, handed him the valentine goodies along with a warm plate of food.
“[A] girl out of New York made the valentines,” Somers-Fletcher told Greeno. She added that a youth group at the St. Albans City Library helped put together the chocolate jars, too.
Greeno, while happy to see the hearts and candies, was just as enthusiastic to see Somers-Fletcher. He lives alone in his home – his wife passed away years ago – and likes being checked on five days a week when his meals are delivered. He’s been Meals on Wheels client for more than a decade.
“It’s really a comforting feel to have the people that come in here,” Greeno said. “They’re wonderful people – I don’t know what we’d do without them.”
He added, “They make our life easier.”
Somers-Fletcher, who has worked with CVAA for almost 10 years, said Meals on Wheels looks to help anyone who is homebound, malnourished or experiencing health ailments.
In addition to clients receiving food they may not be able to make themselves, the meals, made for Swanton and Highgate clients by the Dairy Center in Enosburg Falls, are nutritious and balanced.
For someone like Clifford Bouchard, an 87-year-old veteran who has diabetes, this has been especially good for his health.
“It comes in handy,” he said. Bouchard has been a client for two months, and before receiving Meals on Wheels, he said he bought boxed lunches.
“My wife would never let me cook,” he said, smiling. “So far, [the meals] have been good. It helps me.”
Somers-Fletcher pointed out that many Meals on Wheels’ clients have recently been discharged from the hospital, and are often malnourished. She said she has watched people receive the meals, recover well and eventually not need the food delivery service anymore.
“Their lives improve,” she said.
With meals being delivered weekdays, as well as frozen plates being handed out for the weekend, those numbers add up.
Last year, Somers-Fletcher said Meals on Wheels delivered 7,075 meals in Highgate and Swanton. In addition to those towns, the CVAA serves the rest of Franklin County as well as Addison, Chittenden and Grand Isle counties. In all four counties, Meals on Wheels handed out just under 204,000 meals.
In addition, Somers-Fletcher coordinates community senior lunches every Tuesday at the School House Apartments Community Room in Swanton.
All those meals aren’t free – clients are encouraged to make a donation of $3.50 for each – though everyone who needs a meal is served. Private donations help keep the program going, as do the 20 or so volunteers that deliver for Somers-Fletcher.
“In the summer we do great,” said Somers-Fletcher. In the winter, however, it’s a scramble, and on Wednesday, Somers-Fletcher had to deliver two of Highgate and Swanton’s three routes because another volunteer had gone to the hospital.
“All the communities are always looking for people,” she said.
Volunteers are integral to Meals on Wheels not only for physically getting food to people, but to interact with homebound clients and check in on them.
“It’s a connection for people who are homebound, because they (can be) lonely,” said Somers-Fletcher.
She added, “You get a good assessment of people.”
One client on Wednesday, for example, had recently visited the emergency room with her son after having some trouble with her hip.
Aurella L’Esperance, who is 93, was being cared for by her son, Greg Simard, and other family over the next few days. While L’Esperance had help available to her, not everyone has family or friends to check in, which is where Meals on Wheels can be vital.
“It’s a safety check,” said Somers-Fletcher.
This oversight allows people who may not be completely independent to stay in their own homes.
“They don’t want to go to a nursing home, and we want to provide the services we can for them to stay home,” said Somers-Feltcher.
L’Esperance, for instance, has been in her current Swanton home for decades.
“Since I’ve been married – ’48,” L’Esperance said.
Somers-Fletcher said Meals on Wheels is not only beneficial for clients, but also for herself and the volunteers she has helping her.
“I love working with the seniors because they are the most appreciative population,” said Somers-Fletcher. “It’s a win-win situation for both [of us] because when you go to bed at night, you know you’ve done something good.”
She added that many of her volunteers enjoy delivering the meals to keep them active and out in the community.
“They do it to stay connected and to have a purpose,” said Somers-Fletcher.
For Jean McDermott, of Berkshire, dropping off meals gets her up and running. “I love it because it gives me out of the house and on my way to St. Albans,” she said. And, she added, it helps others.
Delivering meals to clients can also just be plain fun. On Christmas Eve, Somers-Fletcher showed up at people’s doors in a reindeer suit and bearing fudge. When Fred Greeno opened his door, he found himself being serenaded with a rendition of “Grandpa Got Run Over By A Reindeer.”
“He opened the door and he burst out laughing,” said Somers-Fletcher.
Having those easy, fun and warm relationships with community members, said Somers-Fletcher, is at the heart of Meals on Wheels, and is really what it’s all about.
“It’s little things that make a huge difference in people’s lives,” she said.