Food Friends, a senior meals program for Jackson and Josephine counties, has been asked by Meals on Wheels of Ashland to assume responsibility for its home-delivered meals program. Clients of the program, such as 67-year-old David DuVal, are grateful it will continue despite the turnover.

"I'm looking forward to the change, it seems like it will be a little different &

it will be a transition," DuVal said. "At least the service will go on. If I didn't have this I would maybe have to rely on someone else. It is a wonderful thing. It's one of the blessings that continue in my life."

Meals on Wheels of Ashland, which has operated for more than 30 years, has struggled recently. In order to keep a local senior meal program in place, the program's clientele have been handed over to Food Friends. Marilyn Bailey, president of the board for Ashland Meals on Wheels, attributes the need for this change to lack of volunteers. The organization typically receives 300 volunteers annually.

"We have historically relied on the churches and service clubs to take blocks of time &

from weeks to months," Bailey said. "Almost all the churches and service clubs are shrinking. Either those people don't attend the churches that participate or aren't joining the service clubs."

Food Friends has served Jackson and Josephine counties for seven years. It has eight full-time employees and in addition to the regular volunteers. Evelyn Kinsella, the nutrition program manager for Food Friends, describes some of the benefits of delivering the Ashland meals.

"We're a much bigger organization," Kinsella said. "Ashland Meals on Wheels is run by volunteers. In between having their families and jobs ... it's different, because we have paid staff."

Another benefit to Food Friends managing the Ashland territory is the mileage reimbursement that it can offer volunteers.

"What affects Meals on Wheels is the cost of gas,"Kinsella said. "We reimburse 35 cents a mile. We appreciate the fact that people are willing to do this."

In addition to diminished service, the Ashland clientele has decreased as well. Meals on Wheels used to provide food service to 40 to 50 seniors.

"Now it's around 20," Bailey said. "There is a wider variety of care alternatives for seniors. I'd like to think there isn't as much need."

Even with the decline in recipients the battle for volunteers continues.

"We need them in that magic time between retirement and when they need Meals On Wheels," Bailey said. "The volunteers that we need have to have some flexibility in the middle of the day. The ideal volunteer is a retired person that's able to get around."

Along with regular meals, seniors receive a personal visit each day. "I appreciate it &

it's wonderful service," DuVal said. "Every day I get my lunch &

365 days a year &

even on holidays. Because people still need to eat. In six years they haven't missed me once."

The switch to Food Friends involves a few changes that create a need for adjustments by clientele. Currently Meals on Wheels offers its clients the option of lunch or dinner. With Food Friends they will receive lunch only. Meals on Wheels delivered seven days a week, while Food Friends will deliver two frozen meals on Friday to be eaten through the weekend.

Additionally there will be some menu variations.

"There's some things I never got from Meals on Wheels," DuVal said. "I never get ham. Food Friends do serve some different things, like hamburgers. I'm looking forward to that."

With a shrinking clientele and volunteer base, program leaders said it was the right time for the transition.

"Our numbers being down, it being more and more difficult to find volunteers," Bailey said. "It seemed like a good time to talk to Food Friends."

The transition is set for June 2.

To volunteer or offer information to homebound seniors who could benefit from Food Friends services, please contact Paula Seitz at 734-9505 ext. 1.