Saturday, June 14, 2003

Seniors drop from program on food quality complaints



By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Gene Young of Otterbein receives his meal Friday at Warren County Community Services outside of Lebanon.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
LEBANON - Warren County Commissioner Mike Kilburn is investigating the quality of food supplied by a new commercial distributor for the Meals on Wheels program after complaints and a dip in the program's clients.

Until this month, food for the program, which serves 640 senior citizens daily, was prepared from scratch in the program's kitchen, program officials say.

But as the county undergoes tremendous growth, the program couldn't keep up with getting food to the seniors at a safe temperature, so the Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio recently hired Valley Services to provide the food. The Carthage company also serves Clermont, Hamilton and Clinton counties' Meals on Wheels programs.

But after Kilburn received complaints Monday from eight seniors about the food, he asked to have a meal delivered to him every day for the next two weeks. And so far, he said, he isn't impressed.

"Would you eat that?" Kilburn said Thursday, slapping down two plastic-covered trays holding a turkey-ham sandwich with Swiss cheese, a tomato, browning lettuce and corn salad.

"That is absolutely terrible," he said. "They've just got to do better. This is perhaps the best social service program we offer. A substantial amount of taxpayer money goes for senior services, and these services should be the best they can be."

In a letter to commissioners this week, Laura and Paul Evers of Morrow wrote: "We've been receiving Meals on Wheels now for a long time and have always been satisfied with them. But the last two weeks ... have been terrible. They are tasteless and we do not like them. Please go back to the old way of cooking meals."

Meals on Wheels manager Mary Mayer said Friday about 30 people have dropped out of the home delivery program and dozens of others have stopped coming to sites where the meals are served because they are disappointed.

"We've had so many complaints from so many people," Mayer said. "It's been kind of bad. A lot of people aren't going to the nutrition sites anymore, too, because they just don't care for the food."

The program serves more than 200,000 meals a year - 510 people daily with home food deliveries and 130 seniors a day at seven congregate sites: two in Lebanon and one each in South Lebanon, Mason, Franklin, Morrow and Waynesville.

Each meal costs $5.35 for urban areas and $6 in rural ones, council officials say. Seniors who can afford it make donations to the program to pay for their food.

But Karen Hill, Warren County Community Services' elderly services director, said she thinks people are just having a hard time adjusting to change. She stressed that the agency has and will monitor the situation and will survey seniors to see which menu items they prefer.

All 17 seniors eating lunch Friday at Warren County Community Services in Lebanon said they were happy with program's meals, especially the one they were eating: sirloin steak, potatoes, carrots, salad and coconut cake.

"There's just some people who feel they have to complain if things change," said Norman Brooks, 84, as he munched on a salad and chatted with a table full of friends.

"It's wonderful," he said. "It's very tasty. I can't find any reason to feel there's a significant difference."

E-mail: jedwards@enquirer.com.




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