A meal and some company
Diabetic ulcers and other ailments make it difficult for life-long Rifle resident Renelda Batson to stand for an extended period of time, let alone cook a good meal.
That is part of the reason why Batson, like many others, is grateful to receive a meal during the week from the Grand River Meals on Wheels program, which serves the elderly, disabled, homebound and recovering residents from New Castle to Battlement Mesa.
“It’s sad to eat alone,” said Batson, whose husband died about five years ago. “But it’s nice to have a good meal brought to you. It’s just really nice to know that there is that service for the community. … Like I said, it just helps me a lot.”
In 2015 the program, which is run by Grand River Health and relies on a team of 80 dedicated volunteers, served approximately 17,000 meals, which was a 30 percent increase from the previous year, according to Kaaren Peck, director of volunteer services for Grand River Health.
Grand River budgets about $150,000 per year to operate the program. Some money comes from fundraising efforts and grants.
The program, which has operated for 40 years, received some recent recognition from Meals on Wheels America. The national organization awarded the Grand River program $10,000 — the largest award distributed among 265 programs across the country as part of the March for Meals awareness campaign.
Meals on Wheels America noted the program’s “extensive awareness and fundraising activities,” which included Grand River’s empty bowls fundraiser, a community luncheon and the Grand River Gallop.
Receiving the top award was both an extreme honor and surprise, Peck said.
While noteworthy, it is the service the program provides that is most remarkable.
For residents like Mary Hackler, who suffers intense pain and other ailments, seeing a friendly face is just as important as the meal.
“He’s a good guy,” Hackler said of volunteer driver Ray Ostrom. “(The drivers) are great at making you feel better when you feel lousy.”
“The food is really good,” she adds before telling Ostrom that prior to receiving the meals she mostly dined on frozen food, and gained a good deal of weight.
For the drivers, who can get a free meal and reimbursement for mileage, it’s a two-way street.
“You get to know these people and they’re like family,” said Ostrom, who started volunteering with the program six years ago.
He brings treats for some of the pets and has had one of the clients over to his home.
Filling in on a route recently, some meal recipients asked Ostrom about his wife, who suffers from Alzheimer’s and is in a care center in Carbondale. He responded to one woman stating that she recently came home for a family celebration.
He then asked her how she was doing.
“This is good for me because it’s a chance to talk to someone other than myself,” Ostrom said.
For many of the people, the Meals on Wheels volunteers might be the only person they see that day, Ostrom added.
“You feel bad at times because you can’t talk to them as long as they like you to talk most of the time.”
But even the limited amount of time can make a person’s day.
“I don’t know where I’d be without the services in this area,” Hackler said to Ostrom.
“Well, we don’t know what we’d do without you,” he responded with.
“You’re so sweet,” she said through a stream of tears.