The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

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By Forrest Hershberger
Publisher, Sun-Telegraph 

Meals Program More Than a Job


September 8, 2021 | View PDF

Each weekday in Sidney, a room at the Cheyenne County Community Center is busy with cooks preparing meals. Some of the meals are delivered to Sidney residents, and others are shared in a daily meal time.

Meals On Wheels and Congregate Meals both have a place and are managed by the same few people. The programs have been serving Sidney for more than 30 years, according to Judy Schaefer, local administrator of the program. The Meals on Wheels program is made possible by the Aging Office of Western Nebraska (AOWN).

Meals are served Monday through Friday; no holidays. The diet of the meals is determined by AOWN. The meals are designed to meet 33 percent of the daily recommended dietary need of older adults, according to the AOWN website. Participants of the program must meet age and residence requirements.

“Our only stipulation is you can't be under 60 and can't go outside of the city limits,” Schaefer said. “They're very strict about this.”

Sidney is one of 20 lunch, also called nutrition sites, within the 11 western counties of AOWN. Sidney's site is at the Cheyenne County Community Center. The program serves an average of 64 lunches daily.The numbers vary with the menu of the day and personal factors. Schaefer said chicken fried steak is a big draw, followed by casserole. Each meal includes a homemade dessert. Congregate meals also include water, milk, tea or coffee.

“All they want, as many as they want,” Schaefer said.

“It is usually 40 out, 35 in,” she said.

The Sidney site offers meals delivered — the Meals on Wheels program and in-house is the Congregate Meals. Schaefer said Sidney is the only site with volunteer drivers delivering meals. Volunteers commit to one hour Monday through Friday. If a resident does not respond when a meal is delivered, the volunteers follow up.

“It is a wellness check too,” Schaefer said.

The congregate meals include special themes: Mothers Day and end of summer picnics for example. The meals are social time as well as a balanced meal. In addition to the social hour, organizations frequently offer free services such as blood pressure checks, volunteer lawyers twice yearly and a group from Bridgeport conducting wellness checks.

“The people like the interaction,” Schaefer said.

She said after not meeting for several months because of COVID restrictions, people are anxious to interact again.

The Sidney location is administered by two full-time and two part-time kitchen staff staff. The home delivered meals are completed with four volunteers, five days per week.

“They just care,” she said.

The program welcomes anyone interested in volunteering to deliver meals.

Schaefer has been managing the Sidney location for about seven years.

“It's been the best job I've ever had,” she said.

To volunteer for Meals on Wheels or Congregate Meals, call Carol Stimka at 308-249-3227, or Judy at 308-250-1517.


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