Meals on Wheels of Lehigh and Northampton counties help elderly owners keep their pets
Meals on Wheels of Lehigh and Northampton counties has received funding to support a client pet program.
“Our clients’ pets are important members of our clients’ families,” Michele Grasso, Meals on Wheels development director said. “A number of years ago, we learned that clients were giving part of their meals to their pets. Because we want our clients to be well nourished so they may continue to live in their own homes, we instituted a program to help with pet food and other needs for our clients’ pets. We know how important pets are to our clients’ well being and want to do all we could to keep them together.”
“Meals on Wheels America” is the oldest and largest national organization supporting more than 5,000 community based programs...dedicated to addressing senior [citizen] isolation and hunger,” Grasso said.
Grasso said clients often consider pets family members, and for those living alone, pets are their primary companions. Statistics support the benefits of elderly owner/pet relationships. As compared to seniors lacking pets, pet owners are 36 percent less likely to suffer loneliness and make 21 percent fewer visits to physicians.
Some seniors consider their pets so important they are willing to go hungry to provide food for the animals. According to Grasso, one client stated, “I would rather starve than not have my pets.”
Consequently, “Meals on Wheels America” has instituted a pet grant program.
This year both Lehigh and Northampton Counties’ programs have received $2,500 in grant money. Clients needing financial support to maintain their pets receive aid for the feeding, grooming and health care of their animals.
Pamela S. Bechtel, Meals on Wheels of Lehigh County executive director, emphasizes, “We do everything we can to make sure that their [the clients’] meals are affordable.” Each program participant is assessed for meals on a sliding scale based on the recipient’s ability to pay. This policy carries over to the program’s pet support service; therefore, the clients’ level of need determines the amount of assistance.
Monday to Friday, 66 volunteers from a pool of 769 cover 33 delivery routes and serve approximately 450 clients. They perform the tasks of delivering food, and, in many cases, connecting with clients. The volunteers often inform the program administrators of the clients’ pet concerns.
Providing nutritious meals for senior citizens promotes their physical well-being. Volunteer visits and pet support assist clients to remain upbeat.
“Our service is more than just a meal; it’s the human [and humane] connection,” Bechtel said.
Anyone wishing to participate as a Lehigh County Meals on Wheels volunteer may contact Dawn Stillwagen, coordinator of volunteer services, at 610-398-2563 or firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out the application available on the Meals on Wheels website.