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Meals on Wheels brings good food and good company to Jaffrey and Rindge residents

  • Jaffrey Resident Tinka Reed makes deliveries to several Jaffrey residents on Friday as part of the Meals on Wheels program.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Jaffrey Resident Tinka Reed makes deliveries to several Jaffrey residents on Friday as part of the Meals on Wheels program.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Jaffrey Resident Tinka Reed makes deliveries to several Jaffrey residents on Friday as part of the Meals on Wheels program.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Jaffrey Resident Tinka Reed makes deliveries to several Jaffrey residents on Friday as part of the Meals on Wheels program.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Jaffrey Resident Tinka Reed makes deliveries to several Jaffrey residents on Friday as part of the Meals on Wheels program.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Jaffrey Resident Tinka Reed makes deliveries to several Jaffrey residents on Friday as part of the Meals on Wheels program.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Jaffrey Resident Tinka Reed makes deliveries to several Jaffrey residents on Friday as part of the Meals on Wheels program.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

As 11 a.m. rolls around on Friday morning, the volunteers that make up the driving team of Jaffrey’s Meals on Wheels program gather at Alpine Motors to collect their bags of food to deliver to those who need a hot meal.

One of those drivers, Tinka Reed, 80, of Jaffrey, loads up her Saab with a box of pre-made meals — white bags for people with diabetes, bags marked “no milk” for the lactose intolerant and some noting allergies or food preferences. Armed with her clipboard list of clients, Reed begins her route. It only takes about an hour out of her week to be a Meals on Wheels driver, but there are many rewards, she said.

Reed drives for the Home Healthcare, Hospice and Community Service’s Meals on Wheels program, which services a long list of New Hampshire communities, including Jaffrey and Rindge. Home Healthcare, Hospice and Community Service is a nonprofit United Way organization with offices in Peterborough and Keene, that provides nurses, hospice care and rehabilitation therapies for homebound residents in southwestern New Hampshire.

The Jaffrey route is a recent addition to the organization’s Meals on Wheels web, but its program was already well -established, having first been conceived 35 years ago as an off-shoot of the United Church of Jaffrey’s food pantry.

Since it was first created, the program has become independent of the church, but this past year it needed some additional support when it came to issues of coordination and liability insurance, and was officially absorbed by Home Healthcare in October.

The switch hasn’t changed much for Reed, she said, although she’s had to adjust to some new regulations, such as physically checking on each resident. The core of her job and the parts she enjoys most, are all still the same, she said.

First and foremost, are the connections she forges with the residents she services, many of whom are elderly or homebound. Sometimes, she said, hers is the only face they see all day, and the human contact is just as important for some of them as a hot meal. As Reed makes her way through her route, she makes a point to stop at every residence and chat for a few minutes, whether it’s making sure the clients have everything they need or talking to them about their health or their plans for Christmas.

“They all get special to you,” Reed said of the residents she serves. “You feel so good after you deliver the meals and talk with the people. And you know with some people, you’re the only face they see all day. It’s one of those programs, that if you care about people and can relate to the people it affects, you’re called to support it. And this is easy. You don’t have to do it everyday, and it doesn’t require a huge time commitment.”

Marie Constantine, 88, of Jaffrey first discovered the program following a surgery, when she was homebound several years ago. Now, she’s using the service again as she finds her health deteriorating.

“I’m 88 years old,” she said. “I’m very off-balance and I don’t walk very well. I need help.”

Constantine’s husband passed away in November, and now her daughter lives with her to give her assistance, but it’s nice to be able to get a hot meal everyday from the Meals on Wheels volunteers, she said.

“I think it’s wonderful that Jaffrey has this program. I don’t have much company, and the people are nice and the food is great. I get one five days a week.”

Eileen Cloutier of Jaffrey has been a recipient of the program for several years now, and she has the routine down to a science. All of the drivers who deliver her meals are aware of her indoor cat who likes to try to escape, and as Reed entered her front door Friday she effortlessly blocked the entrance with the basket containing Cloutier’s meal of pasta and green beans to prevent the cat from getting out.

“I’ve been getting them now for a long time,” said Cloutier. “I get them everyday, and two for over the weekend. It’s nice. It’s good company. In many ways I’m lucky. I have my home and I’m pretty well taken care of.”

Cloutier has a family friend that checks on her daily, she said, but for the most part, she’s alone. Her husband has passed away and, although she has three daughters, none of them lives in New Hampshire. While she’s mobile enough to do her own cooking most of the time, cooking for one is hardly appealing, she said.

“I’m alone, and would have to cook for myself,” she said. “I think it’s a good thing, and the food is good. I have nothing to complain about on that front. Even my cat likes the leftovers.”

Emily Preston, another Jaffrey driver, said while making sure residents get at least one nutritious meal a day is important, what really draws her to the work is the people.

“You can see immediately what you’re doing. There are people that stand at the door, fork in hand,” she said. “I want them to be well fed, of course, but the point for me is to make sure they’re all right. A lot of these old folks live by themselves, and their days are pretty slow. One person on my route asked me, ‘Are you coming on Christmas Day? Because all I have is the meals and the mail.’”

Residents can help support the program through monetary donations, said driver Barbara Jatkola of Jaffrey, but what Meals on Wheels really needs is people. Drivers deliver meals around lunchtime, when many people are working, and there is always a need for volunteers willing to make deliveries.

It’s not a huge time commitment, said Jatkola. Drivers can volunteer one day a week or even once every two weeks, and a route takes just over an hour to complete. For those who aren’t interested in driving, the program also needs coordinators willing to be available by phone during delivery times to deal with issues called in by drivers.

“It’s not that big a deal in terms of time. I think that appeals to people that want a very short and specific commitment to a cause,” said Jatkola, who has been involved with the program for 12 years.

Susan Ashworth, the director of Community Relations at Home Healthcare, said that, while the program relies heavily on volunteers, for those who can’t make a time commitment, monetary donations are also a way to help. The recipients of meals donate as they are able, but many are on other forms of assistance and don’t have much to spare, she said.

The program is supported through Town Meeting allocations and donations. And a little can go a long way, she said, noting $100 will feed one person three weeks worth of delivered meals.

“I think it’s crucial that Meals on Wheels is available in rural areas, to help seniors live safe and independent in the towns they’ve spent a good portion of their lives in. It’s a meal that helps maintain their health, and our volunteers provide an important daily safety check.”

People can donate to the Meals on Wheels programs that support their communities by sending checks made out to Home Healthcare, Hospice and Community Service’ Peterborough office at Suite 316, 45 Main St. Donors can specify that the donation is in support of the Jaffrey or Rindge Meals on Wheels program with a note in the memo line, or may make a general donation to support the organization.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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