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Dining Services prepares 200 meals daily for Meals on Wheels program

As Cobbers line up outside Anderson Commons in the morning for waffles and muffins, a few Dining Services employees are busy packaging both hot lunches and extra frozen meals to be carted off before noon. About 200 additional meals are prepared by Concordia’s Dining Services each day to be delivered to recipients of Meals on Wheels, said RJ Kinzler, Meals on Wheels coordinator for Nutrition Services.

“I know all of the clients,” Kinzler said. “My job is to check on their well-being. When I go there, I knock on their doors and just walk right in. I see how they are and do little chores for them that they have trouble doing.”

On top of delivering meals each Friday, Kinzler organizes new clients, assesses their eligibility, and coordinates volunteer routes. She said the main things she looks at for eligibility for the Meals on Wheels program are age and disability. Kinzler said that while there is no income requirement, the suggested donation per meal for people above the age of 60 is $3.25, and if they’re younger, it’s $6.50.

“I don’t get a lot of takers on that,” Kinzler said. “So we don’t have many younger people in the program.”

Vanessa Berg, the dietetic internship director and contract manager for Concordia, explained the eligibility further. People must be assessed with a home-bound disability to get meals delivered directly to their home, otherwise they are directed to a congregate meal site to have their meal in the company of other seniors, Berg said. Also, in addition to the age determination of meal pricing, individuals who can’t meet the pricing requirements have the difference subsidized by the government, Berg said.

Preparing to drive their meal routes, volunteers gather outside the kitchen. Among those volunteers are young people with disabilities working with job coaches, and a couple older folks looking to keep busy and make a difference. A recent retiree, Larry Roller, has been delivering for about a year.

“It’s good contact and it makes you realize how fortunate you are,” Roller said. “It’s rewarding in that regard.”

On his hour-long Meals on Wheels route, which Roller is responsible for every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, there isn’t much time for chit-chat, since he has 20 meals to deliver in that time and doesn’t want the last people on his stop to get cold meals, Roller said.

He still knows a lot about the people he delivers to, and has a few that he likes to stay and chat with for a few minutes. In his car, perfumed with hot dish, Roller spoke about one gentleman whose wife died last fall.

“I always try to stay with him for a while and ask him how his meals were, but he still really misses her,” Roller said. “He says that the meals are good, but he misses his wife’s cooking.”

He has highlights on his route too, and as he pulls up to a modest house with a little gate out front, he has a smile on his face.

“The lady that lives here is such a happy lady; she’s really appreciative whenever I drop the food off. I always think she looks like a lady from one of the old diners; I picture her with an old-fashioned apron on. She has a little dog that lives with her and escapes about half the time, so I have to go get him,” Roller said with a good-natured laugh.

Another man Roller delivers to always opens the door and says the same thing.

“He says ‘Right on time, by golly.’ I never quite know what to say to that comment. ‘Oh, well… good,’” Roller said.

Roller said that while there are frustrations with delivering sometimes, it’s really the exception rather than the rule. He didn’t have complaints either; he said that in about a year of delivering, he’s only had about half a dozen times when the food count is off, and said Dining Services is really good about being precise with that.

Those precisely counted meals have been coming from Concordia’s Dining Services for about ten years, Berg said. They’re not just donated to Meals on Wheels, though. They’re bought and paid for. Since it is a government subsidized program, Concordia has to bid against other area caterers for the opportunity to provide for the Moorhead Meals on Wheels program, Berg said.

“It’s not a money-making venture,” Berg said. “We don’t make a big profit. We look at it as a service to the community, and just make enough to cover our costs and make a small profit.”

The meals sent out aren’t just the rejects from Anderson. Berg said that DS usually makes enough of the meal served at the Comfort station to go to Meals on Wheels, but if it’s something that doesn’t appeal to the older crowd, like tacos or enchiladas, they’ll make something else entirely.

“We got a cabbage beef bake recipe directly from the Meals on Wheels program,” Berg said. “That’s a pretty big hit.”

The meals always contain one third of the daily requirements of nutrients and calories, usually coming with a large protein source, starch, fruits or vegetables, and milk, so the seniors can have at least something healthy to eat—an important thing at that age, Berg said. She thinks Meals on Wheels is a great program, and with a background in long-term care, it is close to her heart. She said she used to donate, and misses it sometimes.

“You’d be surprised at some of the conditions they live in. It’s eye-opening,” Berg said. “Sometimes we don’t realize the need in our own community.”

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