In a tiny kitchen in Des Moines, something incredible is happening. "It's pretty amazing, very efficient," says Melissa Elder, "we strive to serve seniors - that's our mission, and it is a massive undertaking we serve 900 meals out of here a day."
That's right. Nine hundred a day. And these are just the first steps of many it takes to feed hundreds of people. "We have 27-28 drivers every day," Elder explains. Each one delivers at least thirty meals and that explains why they move so fast! "They come in, find their routes and they're out. They're very concerned about getting meals out within the timeframe."
Elder is the Director of Senior Nutrition Services for Wesley Life's Meals on Wheels program. Food is her business. But she knows these deliveries are about more than just a meal to the people who get them. "Most of the time they live alone so the driver truly is the only person they see each day, which is a vital component of the program. It's their daily dose of socialization along with the meal and someone to check on them."
"Oh yeah - it's nice to have that extra person come in and check every day and see if you're ok," says Carolyn Lipscomb, "and if not - she'll find out why." She's talking about Lorri Stegall - the driver who delivers her daily meals. Carolyn calls her a ray of sunshine.
"It's nice to talk to the elderly," says Stegall, "they share a lot of wisdom and experience and they're happy to see you and concerned about you. You get to have a relationship with them so it's really nice."
Lorri and the other drivers deliver meals on wheels, while downtown elevators replace vehicles and volunteers deliver meals on heels. For Aric Cunningham and his crew - it's been surprising. "A little bit," he says, nodding. "It's opened our eyes, because we don't see that need in Iowa all the time and it helps us realize how lucky we are."
Elder knows exactly how serious the need is. "For some of these people, truly this is not an option for them. They need to be safe and well fed in their own home. It's their only choice."
Even though Iowa ranks in the top twenty most affordable states for assisted living - it's still expensive, anywhere from $1,300 to $4,000 a month. Depending on a person's needs, home health care runs about $3,000 and a nursing home costs even more - between $4,500 - $5,500 per month.
So you can understand why every meal these people deliver, every door they knock on and every step they take means so much.
Larry MacCready says, "I look forward to it, being single and alone. The hunger thing passes and then after a couple of days you realize I've gotta eat!." Beverly Hook says she appreciates the food, and the company. "Well, just to have somebody come in and say 'Hi, here's dinner' - it's worth a lot, I think!"
Worth a lot to those on both sides, Elder says with a smile. "It's definitely life-changing, to meet these people and you feel so good knowing you've made someone smile."
If you can't donate time as a driver, just $6 pays for a meal! Visit this website for more information on how to help senior citizens in Polk county: