'It’s more than a service, it’s a blessing': Meals on Wheels' volunteers distribute 176 Thanksgiving meals

SYCAMORE – Instead of having a large Thanksgiving meal with family, John and Julie Ahlbach of DeKalb decided to help families in need celebrate the holiday this year.

The Ahlbachs will deliver Thanksgiving meals Thursday by volunteering for Voluntary Action Center (VAC)’s Meals on Wheels program. Meals on Wheels provides hot nutritious meals to seniors, individuals with disabilities, the home-bound and their spouses. The program operates out of VAC’s main office at 1606 Bethany Road in Sycamore.

“We are very blessed, and volunteering for Meals on Wheels is a way to give back to the community,” Julie Ahlbach said. “We’ve been volunteers delivering meals for about six months now, and people are so appreciative.”

On Thanksgiving Day, 176 meals will be delivered via VAC’s Meals on Wheels program. The Thanksgiving meal will include roast turkey with gravy, maple sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, Jello salad, pumpkin pie and a roll with butter.

This year’s Thanksgiving Day meals were donated in memory of Don Anderson, a longtime Meals on Wheels volunteer. His widow Dee Anderson continues to support VAC and has helped deliver Meals on Wheels.

Jodi Moede of DeKalb will be one of the recipients of the Thanksgiving meal this year. Moede has been receiving Meals on Wheels since June after a hip surgery.

“I think the food is fantastic,” Moede said. “I love the oven baked chicken, lima beans, spinach, mixed vegetables and casseroles. It’s definitely better than what I would make for lunch, and there are always great portions.”

Moede said without Meals on Wheels’ Thanksgiving meal, she doesn’t know what she would eat for the holiday.

“I’m excited to be having a traditional Thanksgiving meal,” Moede said.

Another recipient, who asked to remain anonymous, said that she is spending the holiday alone due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have no family around and with COVID, I can’t get together with friends,” she said. “Meals on Wheels has truly been a Godsend. It’s more than a service, it’s a blessing.”

In addition to providing one-third of the federal nutritional Recommended Daily Allowance standards, Meals on Wheels is also a wellness check. Volunteers ensure clients’ well-being and safety when delivering meals.

Volunteer Colette Theurer delivers Meals on Wheels five days a week. Her route has about 25 clients.

“I like to help other people out, and I like meeting people,” Theurer said. “A lot of the people on my route don’t get out, and it’s nice to see them, say hello and make them smile. It’s so much more than delivering food, it’s making sure they’re OK."

VAC’s Meals on Wheels program provides meals to more than 300 clients five days a week.

Some clients also receive an extra evening meal, called a cold supper sack, and frozen meals for the weekend. Tails Humane Society provides pet food and veterinary care for clients’ cats and dogs through the HomeBuddies program.

The temperature of Meals on Wheels’ food is taken before and after delivery often to guarantee food safety. The meals are delivered in a thermal bag with hot rocks to keep certain food warm and ice packs to keep certain food cold. An electric plug is used for long distance delivery.

Extra safety precautions taken during the COVID-19 pandemic include additional sanitizing procedures of delivery equipment and a no-contact delivery method that follows CDC social distancing recommendations.

Although there is a suggested donation for meals, no one is refused a meal based on their income level or ability to monetarily support the programs.

Funding for the Meals on Wheels program is received from state and federal grants, local governments, user donations, United Ways, charitable foundations and the VAC membership drive.

Sponsoring a holiday meal is $750 for all recipients. To sponsor a daily meal is $6 each.

“The Thanksgiving meals are helping fill a void for people who can’t be with their families this year due to the pandemic,” said VAC Executive Director Ellen Rogers. “It’s an important meal, and it’s even more meaningful during isolation.”

VAC’s Meals on Wheels program has been providing Thanksgiving meals since 1989. Originally, the meals were funded by a statewide grant from Seagram’s. Since the grant ended, the meals have been funded by local sponsors.

In addition to Thanksgiving Day, Meals on Wheels also provides holiday meals on Christmas Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Easter and the Fourth of July. In the past, Labor Day meals were sponsored by local unions.

“Volunteer drivers are essential to our program to help reduce the cost of our service,” said Colleen Bredeson, VAC’s Nutrition Programs Director. “Our funding does not allow for us to provide a holiday meal without an extra sponsor. Any sponsorship or donations are greatly appreciated. It’s nice for our clients to have contact with others and have a special meal on the holidays, especially for those who do not have family to share the day with.”

For more information, to register to become a client or a volunteer, visit www.vacdk.org or call 815-758-3932, ext. 232.