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By Jesse Abreu, Bilingual Nutrition Case Manager

After I dialed the next number on my list of nutrition program consumers, I knew something wasn’t right.

It was a routine wellness check, which we do regularly to ensure that our consumers are feeling well, eating right, and receiving care for their needs. The wellness check can help with an immediate health-related need, like when I heard a panicked voice on the other line: “I’m having the shakes, I’m having a diabetic attack, I’m not feeling well!”

The consumer was in distress. After confirming that she had not yet been able to request help, I called 9-1-1. Once at the hospital, she was found not only to be in a state of diabetic shock but also COVID-positive. Fortunately, she was treated and released in a week, healthy and safe.

This is just one poignant example of how WMEC’s Nutrition Program offers more than personalized, nutritious meals. Consumers receive compassion and safety checks from our meal delivery staff, as well as advocacy and support from Nutrition Case Managers like me.

Today, I’m sharing a few specifics about our meal program as well as that human element that means so much to our consumers. Here at WMEC, we are truly feeding both body and soul.

 

A Meal for Every Need

When we first started our Nutrition Program in 1974 we only had two types of meals: “Regular” and “Diabetic.” As demand for our program grew and consumers’ medical needs became clearer and better understood, we expanded our services greatly. Our nutrition options are available to elders as well as adults under 60 who need assistance cooking or cannot otherwise obtain meals for themselves. In 2020, we provided more than 478,000 meals!

Whatever our consumers choose, they receive balanced, delicious meals that meet one-third of their daily nutritional requirements. I often speak to one of our other Nutrition Case Managers, Chris Grady, who says that her consumers almost always maintain, if not improve, their health with our meal programs.

Therapeutic Meals

These medically modified meal plans are designed to control the consumer’s intake of certain foods and nutrients, helping them to meet requirements set by their doctors and maintain good health.

Some of our current offerings include:

  • Cardiac Meals: Low-sodium diet plans that help treat patients with heart issues like congestive heart failure.
  • Renal Meals: Meals focused around high-quality proteins and limited fluids to help manage chronic kidney issues.
  • Pureed Meals: Flavorful and nutritional meals, in an easy-to-consume texture, that are perfect for consumers who have difficulties chewing and swallowing.

These and other therapeutic dietary plans are available to our consumers in both hot and cold supper options.

Latino Meals

For our consumers, finding someone who speaks your language and understands your culture can be as nourishing as our meals. That’s why we offer Latino Meals in addition to our regular menu.

Our Latino Meals provide the same nutritional value and portioning as our other meal options, while featuring food popular in Latin communities. For example, consumers might receive a starch, like sweet plantains or yuca with garlic and onions, a main protein, like pernil (roast pork), and a dessert, such as flan.

These meals are provided via our home-delivered meals drivers for homebound consumers or through a Grab & Go program at Fernandez Restaurant in Holyoke for our more mobile consumers.

Congregate Dining

Before COVID restrictions on in-person meetups were set in place, our many congregate dining sites provided a sense of community and togetherness for our consumers in addition to daily nourishing meals. We are hopeful that the end of the pandemic will allow us to resume these community-based dining programs which are so important to many of our local older adults.

Nutrition Education and Consultation

For many consumers, it can be difficult to plan meals that meet the therapeutic guidelines prescribed by a health care provider. Luckily, we have our own registered dietician, Katie Defoe-Raymond, who can help consumers meet their nutritional requirements by providing nutrition education and personalized consultations. Katie works with our meal consumers to design meal plans, provide coaching, and offer guidance with meal preparation and cooking techniques.

Meals on Wheels

Our most well-known service option, Meals on Wheels brings delicious, healthy, prepared lunches and dinners directly to elders’ homes. We determine the types of meals and frequency of deliveries based on each consumer’s needs, ensuring they’re fed, healthy, and happy. This has been especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic, which necessitated that many older and at-risk adults shelter in place at home.

Our Meals on Wheels drivers are usually assigned to the same route every day, so they see the same consumers each time. That way they can develop strong relationships and trust with consumers. Over time, it’s less like a meal delivery and more like a visit from an old friend.

 

WMEC’s Nutrition Program – More Than Just Meals

As I mentioned in the opening story about our diabetic consumer who was in trouble, WMEC’s Nutrition Program offers much more than lunch and dinner. We believe that catering to our community feeds more than just the body, but nourishes mental and emotional wellbeing too.

Often, our Nutrition Staff develops personal connections with our consumers. We get to know them, their likes, hobbies, and histories, even becoming friendly with family members and other caregivers. When not delivering meals, we provide regular telephonic check-ins so we’re meeting their needs, noticing any changes, and boosting their spirits. These deliveries and conversations are a great resource for older adults who are isolated or otherwise living alone. After all, seeing a friendly face is food for the soul. We are returning to brief in-person visits with safety and screening protocols over the next months.

 

How Can We Help You?

Our Nutrition Programs provide some consumers’ main meal of the day where they would otherwise go hungry. If you or a loved one would benefit from any of our meal services, please reach out to us at any time. You can also learn more about what we offer here.

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