Thursday, June 19, 2003

Meal program switches service

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LEBANON - After complaints on food quality since Warren County's Meals on Wheels switched vendors earlier this month, program officials said Wednesday they likely will change companies soon.

Arlene de Silva, chief operating officer of Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio, said she has been interviewing other commercial food vendors and expects a decision this week.

"We are working very hard to get good meals and to make sure our seniors are satisfied with them and they are nutritious," she said. "We need to listen to what the seniors are saying. We want to keep them happy."

On June 1, the council hired a new food vendor, Valley Services of Carthage, to supply chilled meals instead of hot ones after food quality issues arose as the Meals on Wheels program grew with Warren's population boom and delivery routes extended, some as long as three hours.

The council oversees the Warren County Meals on Wheels program, which is administered by Warren County Community Services.

Seniors who recently have avoided the meals rejoiced Wednesday at the news. Several had complained to Warren County Commissioner Mike Kilburn and the Enquirer about the food, particularly cold sandwiches.

"They gave us raw collards," griped Laura Evers, 79,of Morrow Wednesday. "So I just dumped them. I couldn't eat them at all. If they switch, that would be good."

However, many who eat the meals also have said they found them delicious and had not noticed a quality difference.

But about 30 seniors 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, Meals on Wheels manager Mary Mayer told the Enquirer.

Previously, food for the program, which serves 640 senior citizens daily, was prepared from scratch in the program's kitchen at Warren County Community Services in Lebanon.

The program serves more than 200,000 meals a year - 510 people daily with home deliveries and 130 seniors a day at seven sites.

Each meal costs $5.25 for urban areas and $6 in rural ones. Seniors who can afford it make donations to pay for their food.

Kilburn has been taking a meal a day for a week now and says they are not acceptable.

"This is the best social-service program we have in the county," Kilburn said. "It delivers a very needed service to some very worthy citizens. It should be acceptable to them. Ninety percent of the time it should be of quality the general population would find acceptable."


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