Emmet County Friendship Centers reflect on 50 years of providing home-delivered meals to seniors

Meals on Wheels driver Tammy Coulter delivers a meal to Carol Hinkley in 2020 using all protective measures against Covid.
Meals on Wheels driver Tammy Coulter delivers a meal to Carol Hinkley in 2020 using all protective measures against Covid.

EMMET COUNTY — The Emmet County Friendship Centers are celebrating 50 years of providing meal delivery services to local seniors.

On Dec. 4, 1972, the first Meals on Wheels were delivered in Emmet County. Rosemary Ternes, the chairman of the Friendship Centers Board from 1967 to 1974, led a committee of members from the Friendship Centers and the Emmet Medical Care Facility to develop the Meals on Wheels program for the Petoskey-Harbor Springs area.

During that first month, volunteers delivered 174 hot meals. The following month, they delivered 253 meals to eight to 12 subscribers. Now, 50 years later, the program serves about 140 seniors per day. In 2022, they served 35,737 meals to 240 seniors.

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“Our Meals on Wheels program is one of the most important services that we offer. In fact, during the mandatory COVID closures, it was our only program that continued to operate uninterrupted. Food is medicine. Studies show that there is a critical link between nutrition and chronic illness,” Friendship Centers Executive Director Denneen Smith said in an email.

“As we advertise, Meals on Wheels is much more than a meal. It also allows us to briefly check-in with seniors who are otherwise homebound. It is also a great way for seniors to become accustomed to Friendship Centers staff in the event that they require more services to remain independent. It provides us with a ‘foot in the door,’ so to speak. Once seniors recognize that we are reliable and are truly concerned about their best interest, they are more likely to reach out to us if they need additional services.”

The meals today are prepared at the Petoskey Friendship Center and have an emphasis on fresh, healthy meals. The centers spend about $15.58 per meal using as much fresh, local ingredients as possible. Variety is also important to the centers, Marketing and Development Director Char Delis said, with a different menu every day of the month. The one exception is the popular big chicken meal, which is served twice per month due to demand.

The first Meals on Wheels meal was delivered in Emmet County by Mrs. Robert Honig and Mary Booth to Mrs. Lawrence Gray (right) on December 4, 1972. The food was prepared by the Emmet Medical Care Facility and delivered by Friendship Centers. (Photo taken by Fred Lovelace and found in scrapbooks made by Friendship Centers of Emmet County located at the Petoskey Friendship Center.)

According to Delis, the delivered meals are sometimes the only food that senior will eat that day and the delivery driver is often the only contact they have with another person.

According to Meals on Wheels America, 58 percent of meal recipients nation-wide live alone. Those daily deliveries help protect seniors from injury or other harm and help seniors avoid depression and isolation.

The aging population in the U.S. is increasing. Emmet County has a high population of seniors as it is a popular place for retirees.

As retirement communities and in-home care can be expensive, many seniors live in their homes with little-to-no assistance. Many want to remain in their homes where they are comfortable so they rely on friendship centers and other resources to help them maintain their independence.

According to Delis, 94 percent of seniors receiving Meals on Wheels feel the services help them remain in their homes. Additionally, 99 percent said they feel safer in their homes having a driver check on them daily.

“Roughly 90 percent of seniors want to remain living in their own homes. The notion of independence is critical for self-confidence and well-being as we age. Oftentimes moving comes with its own stressors. The emotional toll of leaving home can increase the risk of depression which accelerates physical and cognitive decline,” Smith said in an email.

“By aging in place, seniors can maintain a greater degree of personal independence. They are able to live their lives as they see fit. With the average cost of assisted living at $4,250 per month and skilled nursing care averaging over $9,000 per month, a person’s home not only offers a sense of familiarity, comfort and security, but is a matter of economics.”

The Friendship Centers of Emmet County will be celebrating the meals on Wheels anniversary with a community open house from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 9 at the Petoskey Friendship Center. The event will include cookies, hot chocolate, a small thank you gift and a chance to be entered to win door prizes.

More information about the Emmet County Meals on Wheels program can be found on the organization's website.

— Contact reporter Tess Ware at tware@petoskeynews.com. Follow her on Twitter, @Tess_Petoskey.

This article originally appeared on The Petoskey News-Review: Emmet County Friendship Centers celebrate 50 years of Meals on Wheels