By BRAD STUTZMAN
Contributor to The Independent
Denise Schilli pulls her Meals on Wheels van into Helen Whitted’s driveway, delivering a hot lunch to the Liberty Hill woman who lives in a small cottage on family property. It’s late morning and Ms. Schilli is about halfway through her route, which began at the Bagdad Senior Center in Leander where the lunches are prepared.
At 93, Mrs. Whitted doesn’t get around as well as she used to and she no longer cooks. Although hard of hearing, she anticipates Schilli’s welcome knock on her front door and invites her friendly visitor in.
“I have been with them a year now,” Mrs. Whitted says. “I really appreciate it. It got to where I can’t cook without burning myself.”
Ms. Schilli, who serves as site leader at the Bagdad Senior Center, makes conversation with Mrs. Whitted. It’s as if the two are old friends. They discuss an array of photographs, with three or four generations of family members lining Mrs. Whitted’s walls. At the older woman’s request, Ms. Schilli searches for and retrieves a missing hearing aid.
She then leaves Mrs. Whitted – the widow of a U.S. Navy veteran – to enjoy her lunch. Today’s offering, prepared by a cook back at the Bagdad Senior Center and delivered hot to Mrs. Whitted’s door, is chicken-noodle bake with mixed vegetables, salad, pears and milk.
Ms. Schilli says Meals on Wheels clients are all at least age 60 – although many are much older – and no longer able to drive. Many are poor. Or in poor health. Or both.
“It’s awful to get old,” Ms. Schilli says, back on the road to her next delivery. “Especially to get old and not have anyone.”
A division of the non-profit Williamson Burnet County Opportunities, Meals on Wheels serves about 1,200 clients in the two counties. In addition to providing hot, home-delivered meals five days a week, the local nonprofit also operates Senior Centers – where senior citizens gather for food and fellowship – in Georgetown, Leander, Round Rock, Taylor and Marble Falls. Donations are accepted, but no one is ever turned away because of an inability to pay.
Although each person is unique, Mrs. Whitted is in many ways typical of Meals clients who because of age, illness or disability are unable to provide proper nutrition for themselves.
Bertie Hohmann, 92, is another such client on Ms. Schilli’s route.
“Meals on Wheels is real good to me,” Mrs. Hohmann says. “They help me because I can’t cook very good. I can’t stand up over the stove very long.
“I love y’all,” she says to Ms. Schilli, who explains that clients count on their delivery drivers for companionship as well as food.
“Joe (a driver) brought me flowers for Easter,” she said. “The prettiest flowers you ever laid eyes on.”
“They look out for her,” Ms. Schilli says of Joe and the other route drivers. “People come and try to help her clean up her yard and things of that nature.”
Ms. Schilli said volunteers who work out of the Bagdad Senior Center drive the 50-mile, round-trip route five days a week, using their own gas.
“If we didn’t have the volunteers we couldn’t do this,” she said. “We couldn’t afford it.
“I don’t know half of what all our volunteer drivers do for these clients. You can see there’s a need. I don’t know what they’d do without us.”
All told, Meals on Wheels has nine clients on its Liberty Hill area route.
Some, like 61-year-old Wendall Hayes, live in houses that have seen better days.
“They treat me real good,” Hayes says, noting he’s currently on a six-month waiting list to get into low-income housing.
Others, like Betty Dunard, 89, live in more comfortable surroundings but are still not able to prepare their own meals.
Karl Diethrich, 69, is confined to a wheelchair. The retired machinist lives in a small cinderblock house with his cat, Tiger, and is recuperating from a fall taken about one year ago.
Diethrich said he appreciates the food and friendship Meals on Wheels and its drivers provide.
“They take care of me – damn good care of me,” he said. “They treat me real well.”
To inquire about becoming a Meals on Wheels driver, call (512) 763-1400. Donations may be made by check to WBC Opportunities and mailed to 604 High Tech Drive, Georgetown, Texas 78626. Online donations may be made at WBCO.net.