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Help Wanted: ICOA's Senior Nutrition Program could use a helping hand

Help Wanted: ICOA's Senior Nutrition Program could use a helping hand

Only $5 for 5 months

A knock signals a hot meal is about to come through Wade and Evelyn Campbell's front door. The two seniors are recipients of meals as part of the Iredell Council on Aging's Senior Nutrition Program and on Wednesday, Nancy Davis and Scott Harrell are the ones bringing it to their door.

"It's wonderful," Evelyn said. "It's been great," Wade said in agreement when discussing the program that's helped feed them for over a year now.

While the two seniors joked in a way that could belie a more troublesome truth, they said other than the volunteers bringing their food and their doctors, they don't see a lot of people these days. But that's partly why the program exists: To feed seniors without them having to leave their home and in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, that is more of a need than ever.

"Folks like this are easy to forget unless you have experience with it, but it doesn't take much time to make a difference," Harrell said.

Davis and Harrell's day jobs have them working out of Statesville's City Hall, but the duo is part of a group of volunteers from the city's government that helps ICOA hand out several of the roughly 160 meals a day the program distributes. While Davis and Harrell rotate in and out with others from City Hall, they're part of roughly 30 to 40 volunteers that play a role in feeding the area's elderly through ICOA's nutrition program. Davis and Harrell said their involvement started with City Manager Ron Smith, who made it a point for the city government's department heads and others to be more visible in the community. But Davis said most are "hooked" after helping once.

But they aren't the typical volunteers either. Many of the volunteers with ICOA's program are seniors themselves, so their increased risks due to the virus have understandably caused them to step back. With volunteers like college students preparing for the fall semester and more workers returning to their jobs, the need for volunteers is increasing.

"We could always use volunteers," said Emily Carleo, the coordinator of the Senior Nutrition Program. "We've had some started to come back now that they've seen the changes we've made with masks, how we're doing things with more distance, putting meals in bags, and stuff like that, so we've had some come back, but not all of them. But you can't blame them, either."

Carleo's usual focus is with the homebound as part of her role with the program, and with the coronavirus, that means more work for her. The usual congregate sites are closed until it's safe for people to gather in large groups again, especially the elderly. While there's a grab and go option available for seniors, delivering meals is a necessity. Carleo said the Iredell County Area Transportation System also is making deliveries to ensure seniors receive their meals, but they still need volunteers to keep everyone from getting burned out. It may only take an hour to complete the average route, but as much as the volunteers say they get out of helping, making sure they aren't stretching those helping hands out too far is a concern for Carleo.

"It's always a need," said Diane Stephens, ICOA's site manager at the Summit Village Community Center. "For some, this is their main meal. It may be the only real hot meal they eat all day."

Normally seniors could congregate for some of these meals at places like Summit Village, but with the virus, it serves just as a home base for some of ICOA's deliveries. Stephens recently celebrated her 21st year as part of the program. While her warm smile and positive attitude were evident as she sent volunteers off on their routes, she echoed the refrain for more help.

The meals are the focus of the program, of course, but as the Campbells joked, the volunteers are some of the few faces some seniors may see in a day. Carleo said they do rotate volunteers in and out of specific routes as needed, but they try to keep some consistency. She said if there's not an answer at the door, they'll contact the recipient's emergency contact to make sure everything is fine.  

"It's like family," Carleo said. "We know these people and it's one way of checking on them."

Carleo wants to remind seniors that in spite of the pandemic, the ICOA is still out there serving food to anyone in Iredell County over 60 years old. "We're open, we're here."

To get in contact with Carleo for more information about ICOA's Senior Nutrition Program, call 704-873-5171 or email ecarleo@iredellcoa.org.

Follow Ben Gibson on Facebook and Twitter at @BenGibsonSRL

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