Seniors depend on Meals on Wheels

OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee seniors gave the county’s senior services high marks in a recent survey, according to program manager Tom Leach.

Mr. Leach presented his annual report to the Okeechobee County commissioners on Dec. 12. Commissioners noted the survey shows many of those served would go hungry without the Meals on Wheels program.

According to the survey, 27 percent of the seniors reported that in the past month they did not have enough money to buy the food they needed, with 22 percent indicating they had to choose between food and medicine and 18 percent reporting they had to skip meals because of lack of money for food.

Of the respondents, 78 percent indicated the meals are very important to their health and well-being. When asked if, without these meals, they would be able to remain in their homes, only 29 percent responded “yes,” with 59 percent unsure and 12 percent indicating “no.”

Fourteen percent of the respondents reported that the Meals on Wheels make up their entire diet; 39 percent reported the meals are 75 percent of their food for the day; another 39 percent responded that the Meals on Wheels represent 50 percent of their diet.

Nearly half of those polled — 45 percent — found nothing to improve in the program.

Ten percent suggested more variety in the main dishes; 20 percent asked for more variety in the vegetables.

The seniors reported the program is of great benefit to them: 84 percent said the meals help them eat healthier; 78 percent said the meals help them feel better; 73 percent said the meals help them improve their health and 78 percent said the meals help them maintain a healthy weight.

“The responses were overall positive,” said Mr. Leach. “There are always going to be those who are not totally satisfied, and we work to improve our service.”

He said the program has four weekly menus that rotate to provide some variety in the meals. All of the meals were designed by a dietitian. All of those polled said they were very happy with the drivers who deliver their food.

The Senior Services In-Home Services program also received praise from the participating seniors. Eight-four percent indicated they were happy with the frequency of the in-home services provided. Ninety-six percent indicated they are always happy with how the worker treats them. One hundred percent said the services help them stay in their homes and avoid institutionalization. Overall, 69 percent said they were “very satisfied” with the services and 31 percent indicated they were “satisfied.” None of the participants were unsatisfied.

Senior services clients also appear to be happy with the programs at the senior center.

The majority responded that they are happy with the services and staff provided at the center.

When asked to finish the phrase “Because I go to the Senior Center, I …”, responses included:
• Do more volunteer work (38 percent);
• See friends more often and make new friends (79 percent);
• Take better care of my health (59 percent);
• Eat meals that are better for me (41 percent);
• Have more energy (31 percent);
• Feel happier and more satisfied with my life (66 percent);
• Have something to look forward to each day (76 percent);
• Know where to ask if I need services (90 percent);
• Feel more able to stay independent (83 percent);
• Feel that the center has had a positive effect on my life (66 percent);
• Learn new things (59 percent);
• Have learned about services and benefits (59 percent);
• Am more physically active (38 percent);
• Would recommend the center to friends and family (56 percent).

Mr. Leach said Senior Services has about 250 clients.

“It’s very much a needed service,” said Commissioner David Hazellief, noting that 82 percent of the respondents say the meals are 50 percent or more of the food they eat every day.

In a related matter at the Dec. 12 meeting, the commissioners approved the Standard Rate Agreement relative to the 2018 Older Americans Act grant (OAA) and Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) between Okeechobee County and the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office for contract year Jan. 1, 2018 through Dec. 31, 2018 at a cost not to exceed $110,047.

According to the staff report, the OAA grant is renewed annually through the Area Agency on Aging of the Palm Beach/Treasure Coast, Inc., and the Community Services Block Grant renews annually through an interlocal agreement with St. Lucie County.

Both grants provide funding to assist frail, elderly residents of Okeechobee County ages 60 and above with services that enable them to remain in their homes and avoid institutionalization.

The Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office is the vendor for the hot home-delivered and congregate meals served through these grants. The meals are provided at the price of $1.70 each. Included in this price is one 8-ounce carton of milk with each meal.

Approximately 60,000 meals will be provided for the congregate and home-delivered meals program.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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