New hub opens for Meals on Wheels

Meals on Wheels for Franklin and Madison counties are now being heated and distributed to volunteer drivers from a new facility on Harmon Avenue in Columbus, less than two miles from the West Mound Street preparation kitchen.

LifeCare Alliance, which administers the popular program in the two central Ohio counties, recently dedicated a new kitchen in a building that also includes a cafeteria open to the public, a dining area with seating for 300 people, meeting rooms and two food pantries.

All of this fits inside a former warehouse that LifeCare Alliance president Chuck Gehring says “is the greenest of green” buildings.

“We were able to reuse a building and use recyclable materials,” he said on Nov. 20 at the dedication ceremonies, specially singling out the building’s white reflective roof.

The landscaping retains three large trees alongside the building and utilizes natural water run-off so that no storm water is dumped into city sewers.

The building has 40,000 square feet, far above the 14,000 of the current facility. With the increased space, LifeCare Alliance can prepare, package and store three to four times the number of meals it has been preparing.

Meals are still prepared at the West Mound Street kitchen where Meals on Wheels has been preparing, storing and distributing as many as 6,000 meals a day. Once they are quick cooled, they are trucked to the Harmon Avenue facility where they are stored and frozen in large refrigerated areas.

Meals packaged in compartmentalized trays are heated in ovens that have 14 shelves to a rack. Trays of hot food are then put into the insulated bags and the bags taken out to waiting vans and cars for delivery.

“We’ll be putting up a giant awning so the drivers who have had to load their cars in all kinds of weather will now be protected,” Gehring said.

Meals delivered into the far reaches of Franklin County and the 11 routes in Madison County go by truck to a drop-off location in the community where dedicated volunteers deliver them to older adults.

Gehring is proud of the hundreds of people who deliver the meals every day of the year.

“This past year we saw an increase in the price of gas and in the cost of food,” he said. “But we lost only one volunteer because of high gas prices.”

This building, remodeled as part of a $6.5 million fund-raising campaign, is also drawing attention from similar programs throughout the country, Gehring said.

“It’s a national model. The cafeteria is modeled after one in Chicago,” he said. “Programs from Providence, Buffalo, and Cincinnati are looking at us and Atlanta has already been here.”

LifeCare Alliance, which operates one of the more successful Meals on Wheels programs in the country, provides meals to older adults, the chronically ill and residents with disabilities to help them stay in their own homes longer.

“Some cities have a waiting list,” Gehring said, noting Houston’s program has had a waiting list of 700 people. “We never have had a waiting list.”

Anyone who wants to volunteer to deliver meals in Madison County should contact Leah Baird at 740-845-7325. Various routes are available, and any schedule can be accommodated. Volunteers receive reimbursement for mileage.

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