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VAC’s Meals on Wheels’ holiday meal program ‘makes a big difference’

Jim Figgins, a resident of Sandwich Manor, doesn’t have any plans for Thanksgiving Day other than staying at home and watching football on TV.

By staying home, he won’t be missing out on a delicious Thanksgiving dinner because he signed up for a holiday meal delivered by Voluntary Action Center of DeKalb County’s Meals on Wheels program.

“I think it’s nice because I don’t have to go out,” Figgins said. “I don’t really have anywhere to go, so I can stay home, watch the football game, and have a very good, square meal with great portions.”

Figgins doesn’t receive Meals on Wheels regularly, but he registered to receive a meal for Thanksgiving.

VAC has provided Meals on Wheels to DeKalb County residents for 30 years. Originally funded through Meals on Wheels Illinois and a grant through the Seagram Company, VAC collaborated with Pine Acres in DeKalb to prepare holiday meals. Volunteers deliver holiday meals on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

In southern DeKalb County, 150 meal deliveries occur each week to roughly 30 to 40 households on five routes: Sheridan, Somonauk, north Sandwich, south Sandwich and Sandwich Manor. Meals are delivered only four days a week to the Sheridan route because volunteers are needed to make deliveries.

Holiday meals

VAC Executive Director Ellen Rogers said that since the holiday meals are not part of the Meals on Wheel’s federal funding or grants and are instead covered through local sponsorships, there are less age and disability restrictions for recipients of holiday meals.

In southern DeKalb County, holiday meals are sponsored by Northwestern Medicine Valley West Hospital and made in the hospital’s kitchen. The hospital has supported the holiday program for more than 20 years.

Through the years, different groups have made crafts to include with the holiday meals and children have decorated the brown paper bags the food is delivered in. This year, Heritage Quilters of Genoa donated quilted placemats for all holiday meal recipients.

“The special touches are heartwarming and touching,” Rogers said. “We’re always looking for groups to contribute. Volunteering to assemble and pack the bags or deliver the food is very easy and takes less than an hour. It helps to make sure people don’t feel alone, especially at the holidays.”

Penni Blue, a registered dietitian and dietary manager at the hospital, said the holiday meals are part of the hospital’s community benefits.

“Delivering a hot, nutritionally balanced meal to a person’s home for the holidays is one way we can support community members,” Blue said. “The meals are the traditional kind you’d find on any family table: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables. … It’s a great way to serve the community. It’s very easy to do and can really make a big difference.”

Making a big difference

Barbara Nadeau, community relations manager for VAC, said that each Meals on Wheels delivery has multiple purposes.

“The meals are more than healthy, nutritious food delivered straight from our kitchens to their front door. It’s also a well-being check,” she said. “When we make a delivery, we say hello and perform a wellness check. We might be the only person they see that day, and it’s important to know that they’re alive and fed.”

Sallie Craig, kitchen manager and Meals on Wheels program director in Sandwich, described Meals on Wheels as “more than just food.”

“Many of our recipients are homebound. They only leave their house for doctor’s appointments,” she said. “Providing them food is nice, but we do so much more than that. We check in on them, say hello, socialize. We let them know that we care about them.”

Pat Connell of Sandwich receives Meals on Wheels five days a week and holiday meals. Connell said she looks forward to the meals because she likes “having a guest stop by.”

“The food is always very good,” she said. “It’s nice to have a good, big meal, especially on a holiday, when we don’t have anyone with us. The deliverers are always nice and friendly and always say hello.”

Mike Cassell also receives meals five days a week and holiday meals. He said he loves knowing the meals are a healthy option, helping him lose – and keep off – 60 pounds in four years.

“For me, it’s a guarantee of nutrition,” he said. “There are always fruits and vegetables and a main course. It’s great to eat when I receive it or heat it up later.”

Marilyn Lower has been involved with the program for about 10 years and is now a substitute delivery driver.

“We’re bringing them more than food and nutrition,” she said. “It’s a well-being check and we’re bringing them joy. You can tell that you really make their day. Whether it’s bringing them lunch every day or a holiday meal, you are helping them. You know that you’re making a difference.”

For information about Voluntary Action Center and Meals on Wheels, or if you or anyone you know is interested in receiving a holiday meal, call 815-758-3932. To donate online, visit www.vacdk.org.

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