Racine County Meals on Wheels recipients may be in for a surprise this month when area politicians and clergy show up at their door, with their meal in hand. Racine Mayor John Dickert, City of Burlington Mayor Robert Miller and Racine County Executive Jim Ladwig are planning to be among the familiar faces taking part in this month’s special MOW deliveries, along with pastors from area churches, according to Becky Marston, volunteer coordinator for Racine County Meals on Wheels, a program of Lincoln Lutheran and Racine County.

Their efforts are part of a nationwide Meals on Wheels movement to raise awareness about senior hunger called March for Meals. In its seventh year, March for Meals includes the Mayors for Meals program which invites elected officials to deliver meals one day in March to show their support of local senior nutrition programs.

“It’s about being aware that there are people in the community who might be in need, and getting the word out there that programs like Meals on Wheels exist to help them,” said Marston.

Last year, nearly 1,300 mayors across the U.S. participated in Mayors for Meals, according to figures from MOW. And those Racine County MOW recipients visited by a mayor in years past seem to have been “really touched” by the official’s willingness to take the time to visit them, Marston said.

A few years ago, Marston added the Ministers for Meals program to Racine’s March for Meals effort, inviting religious leaders from Racine County congregations to ride along on MOW routes, to raise awareness of senior hunger among church communities. The Rev. Kara Baylor, of Mount Pleasant Lutheran Church, accepted that invitation and her MOW experience led to her congregation forming a team that has been delivering Meals on Wheels one day a week for several years.

With 10 people — who make deliveries in teams of two — each person need only commit to making deliveries about once a month, Baylor explained. And the Meals on Wheels mission — that no senior goes hungry — fits well with the church’s other social ministry outreach, which includes support of area food pantries and community meals, the pastor said.

“We do a lot of ministry around food here at Mount Pleasant,” Baylor said. “So it was kind of a natural fit for us.”

The congregation’s MOW volunteers also enjoy connecting with the meal recipients during deliveries, Baylor said, especially because they know that for some of them, it is their only chance to connect with people outside their homes.

“It is a neat ministry, and it is an important ministry,” Baylor said. “I wish more churches could do it.”

Volunteers make it work

Volunteers — from those on the Mount Pleasant church team to some individuals who have been delivering meals for 40 years — are what make Racine County’s Meals on Wheels program work, according to Tina Kirk, director of nutrition for the Racine County Older Adult Nutrition Program, which oversees MOW. In 2011, 85,965 meals were delivered to 697 seniors throughout Racine County, with an average of 325 meals a day, Kirk said. And more than 150 volunteers — including college students and retirees — donated 7,807 hours to make that happen.

There is always a need for more volunteers, and that need will continue to grow as Racine County’s senior population (65-plus) is projected to increase from 13 percent to 20 percent of the overall population by the year 2030, Kirk said. Racine County MOW already averages 25 calls each month for new starts in the program, she said.

And the likelihood of that number going up is fairly good, Marston said. “Senior hunger is an issue we all need to be aware of,” she said.

In addition to the mayors’ and ministers’ programs for raising awareness of senior hunger in Racine County, MOW has other initiatives planned throughout the year that involve the wider community in the program. Members of the Sweet Adelines chorus, for example, will help deliver meals, along with a song. And representatives from Katie’s Canine Klubhouse — a local pet care organization — will bring some of their canine friends along on deliveries to visit with recipients.

Member of the Racine and Burlington fire departments will also participate in MOW deliveries this year, and while they are there, they will check recipients’ smoke detectors and talk with them about fire safety, Marston said. Other community groups — from members of the Racine County Sheriff’s Department to Careers Industries — have also been making MOW deliveries for some time, along with grandparents and their grandchildren helpers.

“We get help from all over the community,” Kirk said.

Meals on Wheels is about more than just delivering a nutritious, daily meal, she said.

“We are advocates for the elderly. We help people to remember that the elderly are out there and need looking after. And we want seniors to know that we are here for them.”

Eligibility for Meals on Wheels

Racine County Meals on Wheels recipients must be:

* At least 60 years of age

* Relatively homebound

* Live in Racine County

* Physically unable to obtain and prepare food themselves, and unable to attend a senior nutrition site

* Able to feed themselves

* Physically able to receive the meals

Meals are delivered between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. five days a week. Recipients donate what they can afford to pay, and no one is ever turned away for financial reasons. For more information, call Meals on Wheels at (262) 637-0727 or (877) 637-0327.

The face of senior hunger

* 11.4 percent of seniors experience food insecurity

* Seniors living alone experience the most hunger

* Hunger cuts across income levels: 50 percent of those experiencing hunger are above the poverty line

* Hunger affects rural and urban areas

Source: Meals on Wheels Association of America

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