Snow and ice hampered services all over the valley this week, and the Meals on Wheels program was no exception.
But after being closed over the weekend, and additionally on Monday and Tuesday — the Hood River Valley Adult Center, which runs the program, doesn’t operate on days when the Hood River County School District calls off classes — staff decided clients couldn’t wait any longer for a hot meal after Wednesday’s closure was announced.
“If we think we can’t get meals out, we prepare freezer meals ahead of time with the hot meals,” Reka Sieverkropp, HRVAC executive assistant, said. “But with the center being closed, and closed for the weekend … we didn’t know when we’d be able to get meals out.”
Then, on Tuesday evening, Amy Mallett, HRVAC’s new executive director, asked Sieverkropp one simple question:
“Don’t you have some firefighter friends?”
Sieverkropp is married to Tom Sieverkropp, an assistant fire chief at West Side Fire. She sent out an email to West Side Fire Marshall Jim Trammel and Fire Lieutenant Josh Beckner, asking if they would be willing to help deliver meals to housebound seniors.
“Reka does a lot of good, helping those guy (at the senior center), so when she called, we were just happy to get out there and help,” Beckner said.
Beckner and Trammel rallied the troops, sending out emails and asking for volunteers to come to the senior center to deliver meals.
Beckner said he expected five or 10 people to show up.
Instead, 25 answered the call from both West Side and Hood River fire departments.
“Some showed up with their families and kids,” he said. “Because school was out, we had student firefighters and support group personnel who came in — a little bit of everybody came out to help.”
Adult center staff braved the roads to come in early Wednesday morning to prepare meals. Cook Sophia Homan and Assistant Cook Eric Gonzales, Board President Beth Peters, Mallett and Sieverkropp swung into action, making sure that Meals on Wheels clients would not only receive a hot meal that day, but freezer meals to hold them until regular services could again continue. In all, over 200 meals were prepared and packed for delivery.
Firefighters took smaller fire apparatus vehicles out on the roads for the special mission, as well as a couple of their own personal vehicles. When they encountered a particularly snowy driveway or sidewalk, they additionally shoveled snow.
For Beckner, the best part of the day was simply being able to help.
“Those people were so happy — they didn’t expect to see anyone until next week, and quite a few made comments about how they’d tried to find alternative transportation but were having a hard time … because of the roads,” he said. “They were very grateful, and we were happy to be able to get out and help.”
“I just received a call from one of the seniors, who told me that not only did (firefighters) deliver her meals, they also shoveled her driveway,” wrote Mallett on HRVAC’s Facebook page Wednesday afternoon. “She had been confined to her house because she could not use her walker outside … As the director of this adult center, I am brought to tears over the kindness that abounds in this community. I want to thank my fantastic staff and board for always going above and beyond for the seniors in our community.”
Meals on Wheels delivers Monday through Friday in the Hood River, Pine Grove, Odell and Parkdale areas, with new service recently added in Cascade Locks. Frozen meals for weekends are also available. Clients are accepted on both short and long term basis.
“We serve all those in need, regardless of their ability to donate towards the program,” Mallett said. “We are grateful for the small amount of federal funds we receive through the area Agency on Aging, and for the rest, we rely on donations and grants from foundations like the Autzen Foundation, Providence Hospital and the Oregon Food Bank. We are constantly applying for grants to cover the costs, as well as funding.”
The center also gets creative with fundraising efforts. To that end, HRVAC will host its first-ever Mardi Gras Celebration and Gumbo Throw Down Competition on Saturday, Feb. 25 beginning at 5 p.m. Sponsorships are available, and the center is also looking for silent auction items. The $20 ticket includes a buffet dinner and live big jazz band; silent auction, door prizes and a raffle will round out the night. Only 200 tickets will be sold — and the goal is to raise $12,000, with all monies raised going directly to Meals on Wheels.
For more information about the Meals on Wheels program, or to purchase tickets to the Mardi Gras Celebration, contact Mallett or Sieverkropp at HRVAC at 541-386-2060, or stop by the HRVAC during regular business hours. Credit cards are accepted.