The Washington Meals on Wheels program is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and is planning a reception for all volunteers, past and present.

The gathering will be held Thursday, Oct. 11, from 10 a.m. to noon at Mercy Hospital Washington in the second floor meeting room (adjacent to the cafeteria). Refreshments will be served.

“We are so proud of all the people who have contributed to the program in any and every way,” said Clare Huber, coordinator and one of the original 12 volunteers who launched Meals on Wheels in Washington.

“We must continue to serve the people of our community, especially the elderly and shut-ins.

“Of course, the program could not exist were it not for the volunteers who deliver meals,” said Huber. “Over the years, they have been truly loyal, dedicated and hard-working. They are certainly the ones who make the program work.

“Immesurable thanks are also due to the hospital employees who work hard every day to make sure that the meals are ready on time and placed in carriers with the correct names and addresses.

“Finally, the program and community owe a deep debt of gratitude to United Way. Its support has enabled the program to keep its head above water because many of our clients cannot afford to pay for the meals.

“Meals on Wheels is certainly deeply appreciative for the community support from the city of Washington.”

Clients are signed up to receive meals, referred by either their family physician, a social worker or relative. Cost of the meal, for those who can afford it, is $2.50.

“The hospital has been very generous and supportive,” said Huber. “It has kept the cost of the meals down and has been most cooperative.”

Meals are prepared for clients who are diabetics and on special diets.

Brief History

The Meals on Wheels program got its start in 1972, after Christine Todd read about the program being offered in another community. She felt there was a need for a meals program in Washington and spoke to others in the community and her church group about organizing one.

In June 1972, 12 people gathered for a planning session. They included:

The Rev. Ken Yerkes, general chairman;

Clare Huber chaired the clients task force with Julie Perry, Charlotte Leiweke and the Rev. Arthur Ebeling;

Sister Mary Hermann chaired the delivery task force with Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Knocke;

Eldred Niemeyer chaired the finance task force with Nathan Oberg; and

Margaret Jones chaired the publicity task force with Kim Parks and Christine Todd.

The Meals on Wheels office was located at the Presbyterian Church and the meals were prepared at the hospital.

The program received a one-time grant of $6,000 from Jefferson-Franklin Community Action.

The first meals were delivered to the first two clients on Sept. 15, 1972, by volunteers Julie Nilson and Vera Niemeyer.

The United Fund of Washington began underwriting the program in 1976 and still does today (as the Franklin County Area United Way).

In June 1990, the program was restructured and Clare Huber was given the title of coordinator.

Carol Hackmann of St. Peter’s United Church of Christ is in charge of placing clients on the program, and Huber is in charge of bookkeeping and record keeping for the financial report to the United Way.

Sue Anderson for years was in charge of scheduling volunteers. Then Shirley Holtmeyer took over this position, and today it is headed up by Rita Kuchem.

Sue Jones is the treasurer. She keeps the records, pays the hospital for meals and pays other expenses.

Ruth Kappelmann and Sid Thayer round out the committee.

The Presbyterian Church is still the program’s sponsor.

Never Missed a Meal

Huber is quick to point out that the volunteers have always been the “real heroes” of the Meals on Wheels program.

“These dedicated volunteers have not missed delivering meals in 40 years,” she said. “Our volunteers deliver in snow, ice, rain —it’s incredible.

“Washington Meals on Wheels deliver meals every day of the week and weekends. No other meals program does this.

“There were times in the past when these volunteers crawled up steps and dug through snow to bring meals to shut-ins.”

Volunteers not only give of their time, but also use their own vehicles and provide their own gas.

“Another thing which many people don’t realize is that the short visit from the volunteers is oftentimes the only social contact with the outside world that the client has during the day,” said Huber.

“Additionally, if the client is not feeling well, the volunteers are able to contact the hospital dietary department, who in turn will contact family members. This is just another beneficial service that the program provides.”

There are currently over 100 volunteer drivers for the Washington Meals on Wheels, but more are always welcome.

For more information on Meals on Wheels or to sign up as a volunteer driver, people can call Huber at 636-239-2243.