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Local home delivery meal program keeps seniors living independently longer

Dana Point Community Center volunteer Ray Douglass prepares meal deliveries for home-bound seniors through the local Meals on Wheels program. Photo by Andrea Papagianis
Dana Point Community Center volunteer Ray Douglass prepares meal deliveries for home-bound seniors through the local Meals on Wheels program. Photo by Andrea Papagianis

By Andrea Papagianis

At 97 years old, Dorothy Davis is spry, mischievous and quick with a punch line.

This former social worker and Niguel Shores resident, doesn’t hold a thing back, particularly when it comes to Dana Point volunteer extraordinaire, Rene Cortez.

An avid baseball fan, city volunteer and onetime grocer, Cortez has called Dana Point home for more than 36 years—spending the decade since his retirement veraciously dedicated to working with the city’s polar populations, the young and the old.

Like old friends the pair exchanges playful banter—the aspect of his service Cortez said makes it all worthwhile.

Nearing her centennial, Davis is no longer independently able to visit the grocery store or prepare meals herself. So each day volunteers, like Cortez, visit Davis—through the local Meals On Wheels program—to deliver daily meals in trade for conversation and a smile.

Through more than 5,000 local senior nutritional programs, volunteers with Meals on Wheels programs nationally serve over one million meals each day to seniors in need. Locally, the program is facilitated by the Laguna Woods-based Age Well Senior Services, a nonprofit organization providing community-based services to older adults in south Orange County.

“The agency is really committed to not allowing people to go hungry,” said Wendy Hermann, the home delivered meals manager for Age Well Senior Services in Dana Point.

Senior citizens are provided one hot meal and two cold, like the one pictured here, as part of the local Meals on Wheels program. Photo by Andrea Papagianis
Senior citizens are provided one hot meal and two cold, like the ones pictured here, as part of the local Meals on Wheels program. Photo by Andrea Papagianis

Serving mostly isolated seniors, the Dana Point service, provides meals for anywhere from 15 to 40 clients—the numbers served fluctuates naturally and is dependent on individual situations, Hermann said, as the elderly recover, pass away or move to assisted care facilities and hospitals.

With certain program requirements, Hermann stays in close contact with clients, families and caregivers to constantly evaluate and reevaluate their eligibility for the program.

Intended to curb hunger and promote healthy eating practices, the Meals On Wheels program is available to homebound citizens over 60. The program assists seniors through short-term recoveries and over long-term disabilities. Those served are covered for the three main meals in a day, with one hot and two cold meals provided at each delivery.

Elieen Hall, 90, values her independence.

And the former casting director, who worked on well-known projects like Planet of the Apes, Dr. Zhivago, “Magnum P.I.” and “M.A.S.H.” has maintained hers for some time, but now needing additional assistance, Hall lives next door to her daughter, Suzie.

Even with their proximity, Suzie Hall finds it difficult to care for her mother alone. A full-time employee of Trader Joe’s, Hall sought additional help when the pair lived in Rancho Santa Margarita. Through Age Well services at the community center there, Eileen began receiving daily meals. Now, in Dana Point for the last two years, the service continues, and the elder Hall maintains most of her independence in a one bedroom apartment.

“At 90 years old, I am still trying to keep my mother out of assisted living for as long as possible, and Meals on Wheels helps with that.” Suzie Hall said. The one thing Hall said she would change, her ability to donate more to the service. With her mother on a fixed income and things being tight, financially, Hall said Meals On Wheels is a life-saver.

Regardless of one’s capacity to contribute financially, Age Well Senior Services provides the local aging population with the ability to “live independently as long as possible,” Hermann said.

And although the program has a recommended donation of $6.50 a day, no one in need is turned away for the inability to pay—or the over ability for that matter—as finances are not taken into account during eligibility assessments.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, seniors—people aged 60 years and over—make up nearly 25 percent of the city’s population. And out of the nearly 35,000 residents, some 6,000—or 17 percent—are approaching old age, something of concern for Dana Point city councilwoman and mayor pro tem Lisa Bartlett.

“It’s important for cities to be prepared,” Bartlett said. “Cities need to gear activities, events and services toward its seniors,” but communicating the availability of such services, Bartlett noted, is often one of the hardest challenges.

Volunteer Rene Cortez unloads the daily meal delivery for Meals on Wheels. The program provides area seniors with home delivered meals. Photo by Andrea Papagianis
Volunteer Rene Cortez unloads the daily meal delivery for Meals on Wheels. The program provides area seniors with home delivered meals. Photo by Andrea Papagianis

At a Civic Association coffee chat on March 15, Cortez aimed to tackle the task. Speaking to a group of 30 locals Cortez laid out senior programs offered at the community center and encouraged the audience to spread the word to friends and family members.

Cortez wears many hats. On any given day, after helping dish out lunch at the Dana Point Community Center, the man affectionately called “Papa” by friends, can be spotted around town picking up his grandson from school, cheering for him on the baseball diamond or leading a tour group through the Headlands on a Nature Interpretive Center walk.

But a few days a week, he slaps magnetic signs on his Suburban reading, “Meals On Wheels” to deliver breakfast, lunch and dinner to locals.

He, along with other volunteers, acts as the eyes and ears of case worker, Hermann, to keep a watchful eye on seniors. Cortez said, after a while, volunteers develop close relationships and for some served, the personal interface with volunteers is the only social interaction they have with the outside world.

“I think it is an important and vital program for our seniors,” Bartlett said. “There are a number of seniors in Dana Point that are homebound and they are not able to get out and do the day-to-day things like shopping and cooking, so programs like Meals On Wheels become a central component in their everyday lives.”

On a Wednesday morning delivery, Cortez breezes through Davis’s front door.

Sitting comfortably with a mystery novel in hand, Davis sharply criticizes her last delivered meal.

“It sucked,” Davis says with a sly grin.

At 97, she’s allowed to be honest and unfiltered Cortez, said.

And in all honesty, Davis appreciates the daily meals and generosity of the volunteers, who stop to debate politics and give advice on home repairs.

 

Nonprofit Scope Reaches Far

Stretching from San Clemente to Trabuco Canyon, Age Well has provided critical services, resources and programs to low-income and homebound seniors since 1975.

Through federal and state funding—and private donations—the nonprofit’s scope of services includes adult day health care, case management, non-emergency medical transportation, health and wellness programs, weekday and home delivery meal programs and the operation and management of area senior centers.

For more information on senior events at the Dana Point Community Center, 34052 Del Obispo St., visit www.danapoint.org or call 949.496.4252. To find out more about Age Well senior programs, visit www.agewellseniorservices.org or call 949.855.8033. Seniors living in Dana Point and Capistrano Beach can apply to the Meals on Wheels program by calling 949.496.4252.

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