Cold puts freeze on senior meal deliveries

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

The frigid temperatures that have gripped the local area the past two weeks sidelined area seniors and the services they depend on.

Sub-zero lows that continued into this week forced service providers such as Meals on Wheels to cancel some deliveries, severing a daily social lifeline for some area elderly.

Besides missing out on the interaction with volunteers, the cold makes it hard for seniors to leave the house or for family and friends to stop by for a visit or to check on how they’re doing. On top of that, high heating bills put a strain on fixed-income budgets.

The weather has kept Alfreda Kacin, 89, housebound and disappointed by the dreary skies and brutal temperatures.

“I don’t like it,” said Kacin, whose face brightens as she sees Meals on Wheels volunteer Judy Pavelski, who brings Kacin meals once or twice a week. Other volunteer drivers deliver meals the other days.

Bence Owens, a 94-year-old retired tool and die worker and a veteran, gets meals delivered.

“It’s tough. There’s no way he could get out,” said Owens’ son, Denny. “These (delivery) guys are God-sent.”

Denny Owens said two other Meals on Wheels drivers also bring his dad food on Fridays and sit and hear war stories.

“I stay in here,” said Bence Owens before opening his lunch of meatloaf, mashed potatoes and green beans. “I don’t get out.”

Last week, the cold weather canceled deliveries to Meals on Wheels clients in Oakland and Macomb counties and across Metro Detroit.

Steve Havernaeck, a coordinator for the drivers and delivery people who take the meals to about 1,000 Oakland County residents, said hazardous roads and dangerously low wind chills forced the program to cancel deliveries for three days. About 800 people were affected.

But, Havernaeck said, the program is set up so recipients are stocked with emergency food in case deliveries can’t be made.

“This year has been quite bad,” said Havernaeck, surveying the morning preparation of meals before they are delivered to local seniors Wednesday.

Kristin Wilson, program manager/nutrition and wellness services for Area Agency on Aging Region 1B, said even if the meals can’t be delivered staff and volunteers will get on the phone. “We do welfare and wellness checks to about 1,000 people,” she said.

In Macomb County, the delivery of 1,600 meals was canceled for two days last week and on Monday due to the weather, said Katherine R. Benford, the division director for the county’s Office of Senior Services.

“We are now preparing ourselves that this is the new normal,” she said. “We are going to adjust our service delivery and business model to accommodate these kinds of winters.”

The cold has also sent seniors scrambling to figure out how to pay higher heating and electrical bills, and local utilities say help is available.

DTE spokesman Scott Simons said the utility has a program to prevent shut-offs through March 31. Consumers Energy’s Whitney Skeans, a customer assistance manager, said the utility has halted shut-offs temporarily and has a wellness check program.