MT. PLEASANT — A new partnership between the First Presbyterian Church in Mt. Pleasant and the Milestones Area Agency on Aging will see the local church serving as a drop-off and pickup location for the agency’s Meals on Wheels program.
Milestones is an organization focused on assisting older Iowans and providing the resources needed to help them remain “independent and self-sufficient,” as noted by the organization’s website. One of the programs they provide is a meal delivery system that not only gets food to older adults, but also provides social interaction through the volunteers who deliver the meals. Several times a week, the program serves a meal at a designated place and time to help foster those social relationships. Those meals have currently been put on hold.
“We had a conversation a couple years back and asked if we could be a congregate meal site because [Milestones] wanted to do some more educational events and game time things,” Pastor Trey Hegar said.
Though the initial conversations did not immediately lead to the partnership the church or agency anticipated, with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, a new opportunity for collaboration presented itself.
“One of my beliefs is that people should serve somewhere in the church and somewhere in the community, and so we encourage members to be part of community boards and organizations. The church ministry is here to equip and educate people to be the lights of Christ out in the world. Instead of pulling back and being afraid, we are called to go and to bring good news, whether that’s using words or in our actions,” Hegar added about why the church wanted to get involved.
Kelly Ripperger, a nutrition supervisor for Milestones, explained the program currently serves about 45 households in Mt. Pleasant and has been serving the area for some time. The partnership with the church came about when the program needed a new meeting point for their volunteers.
“We’re very grateful the church is providing this place for our volunteers to go to get the meals and bring back the delivery bags. We’re looking forward to expanding it in the future,” she said.
With restrictions and public health measures in place, the agency was looking to provide more meals while also reducing contact, Ripperger explained. Before the pandemic, the local Hy Vee served as the congregate site for the program as well as helped provide meals. With coronavirus, the agency looked to switch to frozen and cold meals, which prompted the organization to begin making their own meals moving forward and necessitated a new central point to drop off and pick up meals and the bags they come in. To further ensure the safety of both volunteers and recipients of meals, Ripperger noted the program does a no-contact drop-off.
“They drive them into Mt. Pleasant and volunteers pick them up from the parking lot to deliver, and drop off the empty bags at the church,” Hegar explained.
Amy Clark, director of RSVP, a local volunteering program, and works frequently with Milestones, said the importance of the meal delivery program has become even more apparent in light of the pandemic.
“We’ve really seen how difficult it can be when you can’t get out to the grocery store. If you’re homebound, you literally depend on other people for everything. We have to have this delivery service — it’s essential,” she said.
Clark added the social aspect of the program is also very important, especially since the individuals who need the service are often living by themselves or with their partner without many visitors.
“It provides a vital social connection and might be the only one they get on a regular basis,” she added.
Hegar said the church plans to be the site for those meals and gatherings once they are allowed and it is safe to proceed with them again.
“At some point when they can go back to having congregant meals, the hope is to become a congregant meals site and provide the space to do continuing education, games and recreation,” he said.
Clark added the program is a great way to get involved with the community and that Mt. Pleasant has, in recent months, been in need of more volunteers.
“I really believe in it. The Mt. Pleasant site has consistently had a waiting list for several months — they’re always looking for more volunteers,” she said.