Sunday, July 7, 2002

Diane Terada, director of Hawaii Meals on Wheels, rushed to one of her many stops last week to deliver a hot lunch to a person in need.

Hawaii Meals
on Wheels offers
more than food

The organization daily provides
hot meals and vital human contact

Kindness in common

By Pat Gee

Giving someone a hot meal may provide more than food for the body. Like any act of kindness, it may warm the soul, as well.

That is the hope of Hawaii Meals on Wheels, which delivers a combined 200 lunches and dinners a day around Oahu.

Eighty percent of the people they serve are housebound, isolated and starved for simple human contact.

"Our volunteer is probably the only person they're going to see (in a day). An important part of our service is to have someone checking on them to make sure they're OK," said Diane Terada, director of the nonprofit program based in Manoa.

"We add a little bit of cheer and warmth to their day, and hopefully, relieve some of their loneliness."

If they are not well enough to come to the door, or do not respond to a volunteer calling out, we "go into emergency procedure" and phone a social worker or relative, Terada said.

A volunteer once saved the life of a woman who had fallen and lay bleeding from her head. Because it happened on a holiday, it would have taken at least a day or two before anyone discovered her, Terada said.

The program's 300-plus volunteers are told to report any changes in a client's behavior: "If they were friendly and talked a lot, and now don't; if they refuse meals; if they haven't bathed in a while -- anything unusual."

The daily contact that is part of the meal service can make a dramatic difference in someone's life.

Terada remembers delivering lunch to an "old woman, who all she did was lie on a mattress on the floor in this old falling-down house. In the beginning, we put the meal inside the door, and I said, 'Make sure you see her.' Now, she gets up to answer the door and spends time talking with the volunteer.

"It's an amazing thing. Because of a support network of people, she wasn't fearful anymore of having people in her life," Terada said.

Relatives have found that Meals on Wheels was the key to helping their loved ones live independently longer. They've told Terada, "It was so important to Mom to stay home. We couldn't have done it without you," she said.

"Our whole purpose is to help them stay in their homes as long as possible. When you've lived in the same place for 50 years and feel comfortable and safe, you live longer if you're happier," she said. It's also a lot less expensive than institutionalization.

Hawaii Meals on Wheels delivers every weekday, holiday or not, and if the customers need food for the weekend, extra food is left that can be heated later. Because many elderly are on restricted diets, the food is prepared by five hospital or care home kitchens on Oahu, all overseen by a dietitian, Terada said.

The customer pays $4.80 per meal or "whatever they can afford," which may amount to as little $10 or $50 a month, for what really costs about $100 a month, she said. The difference is subsidized by Meals on Wheels, through donations from supporting churches.

"We are not a take out service. To be eligible the person has to be homebound and unable to cook or shop for themselves or have anyone to do it for them," she said.

But if a family caregiver is exhausted and the client needs a special diet, the program can help by picking up an appropriate meal to alleviate the stress. Sometimes it is just one less thing for a stressed-out caregiver to have to deal with that enables the client to stay home longer, Terada said.

An average of 425-plus people are served during any given year, about 250 of them "regulars."

The average length someone is in the program is two years, but about 15 percent of clients have been receiving meals for more than 10 years.

The youngest is a disabled 6-year-old who lives with her disabled mother. The oldest is going to be 100.

Meals on Wheels is the only program on Oahu that delivers hot meals. Lanakila Meals on Wheels, run by Lanakila Rehabilitation Center, offers mostly cold meals, but both programs give each other referrals if they cannot cover a certain area.

"There's such a big need out there, more than both can serve," Terada said.

There is a waiting list of people who would like the service, and parts of Oahu are not covered. The best solution is for an organization to take over a regular route and be responsible for scheduling enough volunteers so that no one would have to do deliveries but once a week or so, Terada said.

To volunteer, call 988-6747.



Volunteers have
kindness in common

By Pat Gee

Equipped with a name badge, customers' addresses and two Styrofoam coolers, Meals on Wheels volunteers deliver 200 meals a day, rain or shine, holiday or not.

They donate two hours out of their day, plus gas. They also provide food for the soul: someone who cares.

Some volunteers are parents who bring their young children along on their routes to teach them to help others. Others are students, retirees or workers willing to give up their lunch hour to make sure someone else has one.

The program was started in 1979 by several churches with "six volunteers, six clients and $25," according to director Diane Terada.

Ken and Alice Chun, members of Manoa Valley Church, have been delivering meals since the program began. Ken Chun, 82, said he will keep delivering meals once a week "as long as I'm able to drive."

"The service is really needed, and if we had more volunteers, we could do more routes," he said.

The longest he's served someone was 15 years, and he has developed friendships with many. The downside is losing someone to death. "Two weeks ago, I lost another client," he said recently.

Retired for 25 years, Chun said he and wife "try not to be couch potatoes" and to "get out of the house and keep moving."

If the Chuns are the oldest volunteers, C.C. Fan, 18, and Jeehee Kim, 17, are the youngest.

Fan, a recent graduate of Mid-Pacific Institute, started delivering dinners after school two years ago with a friend who could drive.

She will be leaving soon for Boston University, but has trained Kim, who attends Mid-Pac, to take over the route with yet another friend.

Fan described the people she served as "really nice and sweet. They're always asking us where we're going or what we're doing,"

Among the friends she made was a "really nice old man. We would open his food (container) for him, and try to chat with him but not for too long because his food would get cold. And we'd try to be on time for everyone so they can eat at the same time of the day. They were always waiting for us."

Spirent Communications, a high-tech company in Kaimuki, has had two dozen of its employees use their lunch breaks to deliver meals in the neighborhood, according to marketing director Ray Drzymala.

The employees keep their commitment even when the office is closed for holidays because they know people depend on them for their meals.

The employees "really seem to be into it and get their friends jazzed. More people sign up all the time," Drzymala said. "We're pretty lucky here. We all have good jobs and our health. Sooner or later, we're going to be that age. We're just giving back to the community."

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