Giving service with a smile

For Shirlee Ahrens, Meals on Wheels is about more than a hot lunch.

“I’ve always enjoyed working with people,” said Ahrens, who has been a delivery driver with the program for three years.

Administered by North Central Home Care, Fort Dodge’s Meals on Wheels program provides food seven days a week to program clients within the city limits.

On a given day, Meals on Wheels serves approximately 60 people.

Each morning at 10 a.m., Ahrens and her fellow drivers meet at Best Western Starlite Village Inn & Suites, where the meals are prepared.

“We get set up with the trays and pack up,” Ahrens said. Individual meals are packed in microwave-safe containers for ease of transport and storage.

Ahrens is one of four drivers, of whom three are on duty each day. She’s responsible for obtaining the daily count and figuring out who needs to go where.

“We have some people who get meals every day and some people who only get them a few times a week,” she said.

Even among regular clients, counts vary from day to day, she said.

“Sometimes people have doctors appointments, or they’re visiting families,” Ahrens said.

Menus are distributed at the beginning of every month.

“Some days, people might call to cancel because they just don’t like what we have that day,” said Ahrens.

Though in most cases there is only one meal choice per day, there is one exception.

“We serve liver and onions sometimes, which a lot of our clients like,” she said. “But those who don’t can get a beef patty instead.”

Meals can be delivered – or canceled – with 24 hours notice. Even a first-time Meals on Wheels client can count on next-day service.

Deliveries are made between 10:45 a.m. and 12:45 p.m.

Each driver covers a route in various sections of town.

“You really get to know the people we serve,” Ahrens said.

In addition to bringing food, Meals on Wheels can serve a role in safety and socialization for clients.

“I might be the only person they see all day,” Ahrens said. “They’re glad to see you.”

Though Meals on Wheels clients are predominantly older, the program is open to anyone who is unable to cook for themselves, said Daniel Wood, business manager for North Central Home Care.

The price of meals is determined on a sliding fee scale based on income, he said.

Both Ahrens and Wood said that many people are unaware of what Meals on Wheels has to offer – a situation they hope to rectify.

“It’s an excellent program,” Ahrens said. “I’d encourage anyone who may be qualified to call and ask about it.”