Champaign County residents through the Meals on Wheels program since its inception nearly 45 years ago. Coordinated by Family Service of Champaign County, the program provides meals for those unable to cook for themselves because of the effects of aging, surgery or illness, high-risk pregnancy, or mental or physical disability
Dining Services prepares 70 - 120 meals daily in the Illini Union's kitchens for the program and provided about 18,000 meals last year for Meals on Wheels clients, according to Don Block, director of Dining Services. That's in addition to the 45,000 meals, including a la carte items, that Dining Services prepares daily for students on campus.
"Rain, sleet or snow, we provide the meals," Block said. "Sometimes, in emergency situations, our staff helps make deliveries too.
"Meals on Wheels has always been dear to us. We feel it's important to do and of great value, so it's something we've been committed to throughout the years."
Dining Services prepares and packages the meals for delivery by volunteers, who use their personal vehicles to deliver them to Meals on Wheels clients. Family Service directs the program - enrolling clients, collecting payment and coordinating volunteers.
The Champaign County program, which was initiated by the Committee on Aging of the United Community Council in partnership with the UI and Church Women United, rolled out its first Meals on Wheels on May 31, 1965.
When the program began, it provided meals to 12 clients along two delivery routes. Since then, the program has grown to eight routes with eight to 10 clients on each route.
Dietitian Robin Allen, who also is assistant director of dining in Dining Services, plans the menus. About 40 percent of recipients currently are on special diets and order special meals, which cost $1 more than the $6.05 that's charged for the hot noon meal and the $8.60 price for the noon meal plus supper.
Dick Ziegler, professor emeritus of accountancy in the College of Business, has been volunteering and delivering meals at least two to three times a week, sometimes daily, for more than 30 years simply because "It's fun."
There are a few "characters" on the routes, Ziegler said, such as the man who waits for his meal deliveries at the Urbana Senior Center and gets cranky if the driver is behind schedule, and the woman in Champaign who posted a sign on her door instructing visitors to speak English only.
And finding some of the addresses can be a challenge, since volunteers may be called upon to drive any of the eight routes, Ziegler said.
A celebration Sept. 18 at the Illini Union helped mark the UI's 45 years of service with Meals on Wheels. The celebration included teams - including Family Service board members and local celebrities - delivering the meals that day.
Ziegler, who retired in December 2000 but still teaches part time, led his team - which comprised volunteers Block and Abbie Broga, an assistant dean in the Office of the Dean of Students - in delivering meals to people in west and southwest Champaign.
Other UI staff members who volunteered at the event included Ed Slazinik, director of the Illini Union; and Sharla Sola, who is assistant director of the annual giving program in the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Institutional Advancement and a Family Service board member.
Celebrity volunteers from the community included WCIA-TV newscaster Jennifer Roscoe and Champaign City Council member Deborah Frank Feinen. Dot Hunt, who coordinates the volunteers from 26 churches through Church Women United and has been involved with Meals on Wheels since its first delivery, also attended.
In addition to food, the volunteers' regular visits also provide social contact and a sense of security, said Sheryl Bautch, executive director of Family Service.
"We've had situations where the volunteer has gone to deliver the meal and there's been no answer at the door," Bautch said. "We have a safety protocol where the volunteer calls the Family Service office, which calls an emergency contact person. Sometimes, it's just the recipient went out to get their hair done and forgot to let us know. But every once in a while a client has fallen or become ill, and if it weren't for that volunteer, the person might have gone for a long time without anyone checking on them. We think that over the years we've saved a few lives."
Broga said that having food prepared and delivered by Meals on Wheels for eight months allowed her mother-in-law to stay in her home longer than she would have otherwise.
That experience prompted Broga to join the board of Family Service about a year and a half ago.
"Family Service has exercised responsible stewardship of its funding during its 98 years, assisting as many members of the community as possible," Broga said.