Meals on Wheels on the move

Messenger photo by Sandi Latimer

Chuck Gehring, president of LifeCare Alliance, shows some of the items donated to the food pantry for Project Open Hand, a pantry that provides food and other necessities to people with HIV and AIDS.

Workers in the Meals on Wheels kitchen prepare three times as many meals as their facility was designed for.

The 50 workers prepare as many as 4,000 trays of food a day, seven days a week, for the Meals on Wheels program. They also prepare about 2,400 after-school food trays for children – all in a facility designed in 1990 for 2,000 meals.

Relief is on the way.

LifeCare Alliance, which operates the Meals on Wheels program in Franklin and Madison counties, has embarked on a capital campaign designed to raise $5 million.

Of that amount, $3.5 million will provide a new kitchen, as well as storage and dining facilities. The remaining amount will grow the endowment, said LifeCare Alliance president Charles Gehring.

The campaign began quietly last summer following a feasibility study. Some available options included erecting a new building, adding on to the existing building on West Mound Street, or purchasing an existing building, Gehring explained.

"There’s no space here," he said, standing on the back loading dock of the kitchen building which overlooks a parking lot. "Behind there is the railroad tracks."

Putting up a new building, he said, would be costly.

Fortunately, an existing building was available. Through early donations of $500,000 each from Ingram White Castle Foundation and the Nationwide Foundation, LifeCare Alliance has purchased that building, located at 670 Harmon Ave.

"You can’t buy a building at Polaris or Pickerington for that amount," said Gehring, a Westsider since birth who is committed to staying there.

"And it’s only a mile and a half away from here."

Work will begin this summer on renovating the building once occupied by Kreber Graphics, who found larger facilities in Hilliard.

When work is finished, hopefully eight months later, kitchen workers, who have been cramped in a 14,000-square-foot area, will have 40,000 square feet for food preparation and storage.

There will also be space for the food pantry for Project Open Hand and for a senior dining area with plans to expand it to include a fitness area and computer room.

"We’ll be able to bring some of our clients in for dining," he said. "Socialization is important for these people."

He’d like to add a computer room, he said, so "these people can e-mail their grandchildren."

To help these older adults learn how to use computers, he’s looking to the younger generation to do some community service by coming in and teaching them how to e-mail.

Additional funds in this five-year campaign have been pledged by American Electric Power, English Foundation, Team Fishel, Wolfe Associations, Worthington Industries, Grange Insurance, The Columbus Foundation, and Huntington National Bank.

In addition, the Reinberger Foundation of Cleveland, named for the family who started NAPA, has pledged $50,000 so LifeCare Alliance can purchase a refrigerated truck, Gehring said.

LifeCare Alliance staff is also excited about the expansion project and have pledged to raise $225,000 through payroll deductions over the five years.

With the money donated and pledged, the campaign still needs about $1.75 million, Gehring figured.

He said there are many friends of LifeCare Alliance who have yet to be contacted.

When the new facility is open, most of the food will still be prepared, cooked and packaged at the West Mound Street facility, but then will be trucked the mile and a half for storage.

Currently all the products used in the preparation of the meals are stored in a room behind the kitchen.

Paper and plastic ware that accompany the meals are stored in a semi-truck trailer on the back loading dock.

Another thing the new facility will have is a better way of unloading trucks that haul in supplies.

"Currently it is all done by hand," Gehring said. "We’ll have a fork truck with this new location. It will make it easier on the workers."

Gehring is also looking forward to a larger cooler for dairy products. The one they have now holds enough milk to make it through the day with a few containers left over. After the meals are sent out for the day, that same cooler is used to store packaged fruit cups and other items for the next day’s lunch that need refrigerated.

This Meals on Wheels program is one of the largest in the nation. Hundreds of volunteers span out throughout Franklin and Madison counties around the noon hour 365 days a year to deliver meals.

Each meal is prepared specially for the client, keeping in mind the recipient’s dietary needs.

"This program is just one more step toward keeping the older adults living in their own homes for as long as they can," Gehring said.

"By providing them with a hot meal every day, we are saving the taxpayers money by not having to pay to have these people in nursing homes."

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