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Meals on Wheels facing crisis

December 31, 1999|By MARLO BARNHART

Finding the director of Washington County's Meals on Wheels in her office can be tough because more likely than not, Susie Mowen will be out delivering to clients in need.

The fact that the director delivers is a symptom of a greater crisis facing the vital service, which feeds 100 people daily.

"We only have about 30 volunteers now," Mowen said.

While many of the volunteers have been with the program for the 10 years that Mowen has been at the helm, the numbers are down.

Some volunteers can deliver only one or two days a week. Other volunteers are getting older and have had to cut back, Mowen said.

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The Meals on Wheels program, which is run through the Washington County Community Action Council, operates on donations, Mowen said.

"We suggest $4 a delivery for a hot meal and a cold meal but it's only a suggestion," she said.

The meals, prepared by Always Catering, cost Meals on Wheels $4.50 each. Monte Jones, a former chef, provides the meals each day, including some for people with special needs such as diabetics, Mowen said.

"We vary the menus so clients don't get the same thing in a six-week cycle," Mowen said.

While other organizations such as the Commission on Aging provide a similar service for residents who are 60 and older, Meals on Wheels serves anyone, no matter what age or income level.

Some clients use it long term while others need it only while they recover from a fall or surgery, Mowen said.

Each day, the volunteers pick up the meals and deliver on their appointed route. Clients can be anywhere there is a volunteer who can get them a meal, Mowen said.

There are routes in most of Hagerstown, the North End, out to White Hall Road and Robinwood and in the West End to the city limits.

"It takes about 90 minutes to do a route," Mowen said.

It can take longer if the volunteers take the time to visit.

There is help in some areas such as Boonsboro, where Reeder Memorial Home does some meals, Mowen said. But a volunteer would be helpful in that area, she said.

"With more volunteers, we could expand," Mowen said. Husband and wife teams are ideal since that provides more chance for visiting with clients.

If a volunteer is unable to deliver, either Mowen or her assistant, Dottie Smith, picks up the slack.

"My whole life revolves around this ... taking routes that aren't staffed," Mowen said.

Volunteers must be age 18 or older, have a good driving record and insurance on their vehicle.

Right now, Meals on Wheels, which is a United Way agency, is operating at a $1,000 a month deficit, Mowen said.

Grant money is getting harder to find so Mowen is hoping for more donations from the community.

"I get discouraged sometimes but then a client will give me a big hug and make it all worthwhile," Mowen said.

For more information on Meals on Wheels call 301-797-4161.

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