by Katie Arvia
LANSING, Ill. (December 3, 2019) – For over 20 years, the Lansing Meals on Wheels program has been providing low-cost meals to seniors throughout the village. The food is typically delivered every Tuesday and Thursday morning, with a few exceptions around major holidays such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. Over 40 Lansing residents receive this service from Meals on Wheels.
Recently, however, Lansing Meals on Wheels was in trouble. With several key people retiring or stepping down from the organization, the program was running so low on volunteers that it was at risk of being shut down.
“Basically, all the articles you read about us closing down—that was the truth,” said Denise Cox, who handles communications and scheduling for Lansing Meals on Wheels.
Despite the major setbacks, Cox said she and the other volunteers hoped to keep the program going: “A lot of people were praying because we did not want to end [the program]. We were going to end on December 19.”
It seems that those prayers have been answered; after word got out that Lansing Meals on Wheels needed more volunteers to continue the program, more people than ever stepped up to the plate.
“For once, I have a full quantity of people [who want to volunteer],” Cox said. “I had a retired police officer call me today, and he wants to be a driver.” She also credits the village’s quarterly newsletter, Looking at Lansing, with helping spread the word.
Lansing Meals on Wheels serves seniors between 10:30am and noon, depending on where they are located on the routes, while volunteer shifts typically are from 8:00am-noon, which Cox said makes it difficult to find volunteers. “It’s very difficult to get a lot of people that are home during the day,” she said.
Churches and community working together
Lansing Meals on Wheel is a not-for-profit organization that is partially funded by the First United Methodist Church. The church also allows the program to use their kitchen.
“We use the Methodist church as our home base,” Cox said. “They’ve been generous about their kitchen for years. It started as a mission, out of that church, and now it’s grown to incorporate a lot of different people from a lot of different churches.”
Various churches in town take up collections for Lansing Meals on Wheels, and the annual roundball tournament, played by students from grade schools throughout Lansing, raises money for both Lansing Meals on Wheels and the food pantry.
“If we didn’t have the key people step up, we would have disbursed the funds that we had back to the organizations and there would’ve been a lot of [affected] people,” Cox explained.
For those who can afford it, each meal costs $4, but Cox said some seniors qualify for scholarships. “There’s a lot of people in their 80s and 90s that really don’t have much of a pension,” Cox explained. The program is also funded by monetary donations received from residents of Lansing and beyond.
The meals and the wheels
Meals usually consist of an entrée that may be served with a side such as noodles, potatoes, stuffing, rice, or vegetables. Dessert, bread/dinner roll, and a side salad are included. Cox said that many recipients are able to make two meals out of each delivery, thanks to the generous portions.
Volunteers not only donate their time; they also donate their cars and gas to use for deliveries. The program coordinators and cooks typically work twice per month. There is usually a dedicated Tuesday crew and Thursday crew. Cox even said that a group of 50-60 people do all the baking for Lansing Meals on Wheels. “It’s a pretty big operation actually!” Cox said.
Running at full speed
Although the Lansing Meals on Wheels program has found an adequate number of volunteers, Cox said she still encourages people who are interested in lending a hand to reach out.
“We can be short a volunteer here and there,” Cox said, citing vacations, familial obligations, illnesses, and bad weather as factors in volunteer availability. “I’m not going to turn anybody down! I can always take them.”
For those interested in helping out the program but are unable to donate time, Cox said that monetary donations are best, as they plan menus in advance and have dedicated shoppers who purchase all necessary food items.
For now, the program is back up and running at full speed. Cox said she appreciates the volunteers and everything that they do for the program.
“It’s just two meals a week, but they count on that. And they count on the friendly interaction of the [volunteers],” Cox said. “We’re hoping to keep going.”
People interested in volunteering, or people in need of assistance from the Lansing Meals on Wheels program, can contact Denise Cox at 708-895-0388.