Meals on Wheels, Bridging the Gap join forces
by W. Winston Skinner
Meals On Wheels of Coweta was seeing its budget cut – and searching for a way to serve more senior citizens.
Bridging the Gap was polling its clients – finding out who they were and why they needed food. The two groups got together, and more meals than ever are being served – from a shiny new kitchen at the BTG headquarters on First Avenue.
The partnership between the two programs recently celebrated its first year of collaboration. During that time, 111,635 pounds of food have gone to senior citizens locally.
“Hungry’s bad no matter how old you are,” said Lizabeth Andrew, former board chairman for Meals On Wheels of Coweta. “No person in Coweta County – no matter their age – should be hungry, but certainly not old folks.”
Alison Wallace, executive director of BTG, said that group’s effort to figure out why people in Coweta County are hungry began early in the ministry’s history. BTG wanted to “not just put a Band-Aid on” the problem, she said, but to determine “the real needs.”
A survey of people coming for food at BTG showed 32 percent of them were senior citizens. “It’s horrible that seniors are having to come through the doors to a food pantry,” she remembered thinking.
“I knew we could do something about it,” she said. “I knew if we could find the right partnership that things could change.”
Wallace began praying about the situation. One day she was driving down Hospital Road, and she felt drawn to the Rutledge Center. She stopped, met Bobby Welch, who directs Rutledge’s programs for mentally retarded Cowetans.
She also met Don Gangell. Gangell was at the local Meals on Wheels office, which has space in the Rutledge building. Wallace and Gangell began to talk about “how we could partner,” she remembered.
At that point, BTG was distributing food twice a week. It was determined that if the ministry only gave out food boxes weekly, there would be food that could be channeled to MOW clients.
MOW was also looking for answers. They had been getting meals from Piedmont Newnan Hospital in polystyrene foam trays.
“We had to serve them quickly because they were warm,” Andrew recalled.
MOW had reached the limit – 60 – with the number of meals it could get from the hospital, but the group’s waiting list continued to grow. Meals On Wheels leaders were searching for options the day Wallace stopped and talked with Gangell.
“She said, ‘Let’s do this,’” Andrew remembered.
“In August, the first meals went out with Meals On Wheels,” Wallace said. An additional partnership with the Atlanta Food Bank brought more food into the equation, and banks and businesses donated freezers, a sealer, a stove and other equipment to modernize the kitchen at BTG.
Andrew noted the setup at BTG means Meals On Wheels can take meals in frozen trays from the BTG kitchen to a local senior citizen’s home. Volunteers deliver the meals, which the recipient can warm immediately or save for suppertime on another day.
“You can deliver all the meals for a week at one time,” Andrew said. Meals On Wheels made sure all their clients had a microwave they could operate, and the group still offers a hot meal program for blind clients.
“The more frozen meals we fix, the more people we can serve,” Andrew marveled.
“Our seniors deserve more than what we’ve been able to give them,” Wallace said. “We can make a difference. We can find solutions.”
“I think about the people who have been touched – and how God uses this ministry,” said Nathan Hightower, chairman of the Bridging the Gap board. Reflecting on what has happened through the MOW-BTG collaboration, he said God has used “ordinary people … to make something extraordinary.”