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Meals on Wheels delivers food to the frail, ill, isolated

December 28, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

The meals were corned beef hash for lunch and ham salad and fruit for supper.

The wheels were the tires on Bob Bloyer's Dodge Caravan.

Bloyer is one of about 30 Meals on Wheels volunteers who deliver hot and cold meals weekdays to frail, ill or isolated people throughout Washington County.

Once a month, about 30 employees from Citicorp Credit Services in Hagerstown pitch in, too.

Community Action Council serves an average of 90 people per day through Meals on Wheels, said Kristin Short, a nutrition services specialist for CAC.

People 60 years old and over are asked for a donation. People under 60 are billed based on their income.

Each morning, Monday to Friday, CAC volunteers meet in an alley behind Always Catering on North Conococheague Street in Williamsport.

They step up into a sloped garage, where red and blue coolers are stacked in rows. Those are the cold meals. The hot meals are inside.

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Always Catering provides meals for Meals on Wheels by contract, Short said.

At 79, Bloyer, who lives alone but well in Halfway, is older than many people who accept his deliveries.

He said he first volunteered on the route in 1985, after he retired from 40-plus years with Western Maryland Railroad.

For part of that career, he had an office job in the building that now houses the Hagerstown Police Department. Then, he switched to a review position that sent him to other states.

Becoming a Meals on Wheels driver, he figured, "ought to be something interesting to do."

Bloyer's route is in downtown Hagerstown.

His first stop on this corned beef hash/ham salad day was Potomac Towers on Baltimore Street.

Bloyer pulled 11 covered aluminum trays and 11 brown bags from the back of his minivan and set them in a shopping cart. He also stuck in the cart a box of candy canes, so he could add one to each package.

The 12th floor was first.

Winnie Custer, 71, said she's been getting meals for about a year. She uses a walker and doesn't move around easily.

Custer opened the packages to see what was inside. Bloyer was interested; he never finds out what he's brought.

The hot food container had corned beef hash, wax beans and mashed potatoes.

The cold supper bag had milk, two rolls, a cup of mandarin oranges, a cup of ham salad, orange juice and a cup of gelatin for dessert.

The meal's not bad and not great, Custer said. But she's eating better.

"Some leaves a little to be desired," she said. "But I've gained six pounds since I've started."

In an 11th-floor apartment, a man in his pajamas, hooked up to an oxygen supply, said he'd rely on frozen food without his daily delivery.

Another woman on oxygen on the seventh floor said she isn't well enough to cook.

"I have bad legs and feet and back. I can't stand enough. I don't have breath enough to get a meal."

She said she was anemic and not eating enough before. Now, tasty food is brought to her. "I try to eat all I can," she said. "I like it all - but the hotdogs and green beans."

Much of this is news to Bloyer, who usually stops just long enough to exchange pleasantries and hand over the meals. He raps quickly on each door before walking in and calling, "Dinner's here!"

Elwood Carpenter, 69, on the third floor, signed up for Meals on Wheels because his son was worried about what he ate.

"I cook myself," Carpenter said. "But I make the same thing everytime - mostly hamburgers and TV dinners."

Down the hall, Mary Long, 66, who also has a machine to help her breathe, is another fan of the delivered food.

Her favorites are coleslaw and fried chicken.

The fried chicken received more praise than any other menu item.

"I look forward to the volunteers coming every day," said Jean McHenry, 81, another third-floor resident.

Besides their fondness of chicken, several women on Bloyer's route have one other thing in common, as far as he can tell: watching game show host Bob Barker in the morning.

"You can follow 'The Price Is Right' from room to room, from stop to stop," Bloyer said with a smile.

The Kurlands, on the second floor, aren't watching.

Stanley Kurland, 76, whose Brooklyn, N.Y., accent sets him apart on Bloyer's route, said the meals are "alright," but needed.

Kurland said he and his wife have lived there for about 15 or 17 years. They came to Hagerstown to live with their son. When he moved away, they stayed.

"I enjoy being here," Ruth Knicely, 91, said in the doorway of her first-floor apartment. "Where I lived before, there were some undesirables there - the 300 block of South Potomac Street. Whenever I ventured out to get out in my car, it seemed like they would be out and watching every move."

Knicely prepares simple breakfasts for herself and counts on her son-in-law over the weekends. Among the Wheels meals, she's partial to ham.

Bloyer leaves his last Potomac Towers delivery in a mesh bag outside another first-floor apartment.

He said he's never seen the man who lives there. "I wouldn't know him if I fell over him," Bloyer said.

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