Senior meal program promotes independence, health

MARILYN FOOTE started out in food service at South Dakota State University, but has been working for the Inter-Lakes Community Action Partnership for six years. Preparing meals for seniors who participate in the 60's-Plus Dining program is a rewarding part of the work she does.

The Beatles had it right decades ago.

"I get by with a little help from my friends," Ringo Starr sang in a song with nearly the same title. "Gonna try with a little help from my friends."

During March, the Inter-Lakes Community Action Partnership is working to widen the circle of friends who take advantage of their senior meals program, 60s-Plus Dining. The program offers nutritious meals to anyone over age 60 with the goal of helping seniors to remain healthy.

"Everyone needs to take care of themselves," said Sarah Hock, 60s-Plus Dining manager. "If you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of anyone else."

She said that too often, instead of seeing the program as a community resource which enables individuals to maintain their independence, seniors think participation indicates they are beginning to fail.

"They think that once someone starts delivering meals, it means they're old and can't do anything else," Hock explained.

From her perspective, the opposite is true, especially for those seniors who are able to make a full donation when billed each month or who can add a little extra to the payment. Although the program receives a stipend from the state, it doesn't fully cover operational costs.

When seniors join the program and make a monthly donation, they are strengthening the program to ensure meals are available for those whose resources are limited.

"The more people we have, the more people we can give out," Hock said.

Currently, meals are delivered to about 50 people in the Madison area, regardless of their ability to pay. For those engaged in preparing and delivering the meals, the program is about more than meals; it is about relationships.

"Everyone just touches your heart. That's why you do it," said Michelle Burggraff, a translation specialist/computer operator with East River Electric Power Cooperative who delivers meals.

She doesn't even remember how long she has been involved with the ICAP program. She knows that she started when she was in the Jaycees and continued as a member of the Madison United Methodist Church. Now, having moved out of the Madison community, she is not associated with any of the groups who deliver regularly. However, she continues to do so because of the personal satisfaction she derives.

In the kitchen at ICAP, where meals are prepared for both children in Head Start and seniors in the 60s-Plus Dining program, the staff feels the same way. Cook Marilyn Foote and dietary aide Susan Nighbert start their days before 7 a.m., preparing breakfast -- the first of three meals the children in Head Start will receive -- and packing the insulated lunch carriers which will hold the chilled portions of the senior meals. After breakfast, they swing into preparation for the noon meal for the two groups.

"Most days it's the same," Foote said.

The monthly menu shows the variety the duo prepares -- chicken cordon bleu with garlic mashed potatoes, tater tot hotdish, Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes, pork roast with sweet potatoes and baked apples, ham and squash casserole, chicken pot pie and red spiced applesauce, shrimp scampi and roasted broccoli, and lemon pepper cod with wild rice.

However, they are in agreement regarding the ever-popular favorite: roast beef. Mashed potatoes and gravy come in a close second, though.

After the meals are prepared, they are sealed into trays and stored in insulated bags until they can be delivered. Hot packs, heated in the microwave, help to keep the meals hot as the drivers take them to individuals on one of the five routes in town.

While Foote and Nighbert enjoy working together and love working with the children, one of the perks which recharges them comes when a volunteer is unable to make a delivery.

"Marilyn and I get to go and deliver the meals. We love that," Nighbert said. "We get to meet with the people. That's very rewarding."

"We just wish there were more seniors that took advantage of it," Foote said.

Hock emphasized that anyone over age 60 can have a meal delivered or can pick one up at the Head Start building. She said that one misapprehension regarding the program has to do with target audience. Some see it as a program for the needy and don't see themselves in that socioeconomic group.

"They say, `There's somebody worse off than me that needs it'," she said.

However, it is not a needs-based program with income guidelines. That being said, Hock also emphasized that the ability to pay should not be perceived as a barrier.

"We can't charge. We can't say, `This is what you have to pay'," she explained. ICAP can and does ask for a donation of $3.90 per meal, but the ability to pay isn't a deal breaker.

"We have people who aren't able to donate at all."

Those who pay for meals help to cover the costs for those who can't. But local businesses and organizations also help with cash donations. Hock said that in December, Taco John's raised money for the 60s-Plus Dining program by asking customers to contribute the difference between the cost of their meal and the next even dollar. This donation has been used for meals delivered prior to holidays when meals are not served.

"We would like to have businesses sponsor every holiday," Hock said. She estimates the cost to a business would be approximately $235.

She encourages individuals who would like to receive meals or would like to see a family member receive meals to contact her. Prior to delivering meals to a friend or family member, she will call to alleviate any confusion or misunderstandings.

In speaking about the 60s-Plus Dining program, Hock also notes that as much as anything, it's a convenience. She admits that she herself takes advantage of the program.

"I'm getting up there myself and I know there are days I don't want to think about cooking," she said.

To have meals delivered or to learn more about the program, call 256-6645.