Note: Hocking Athens Perry Community Action (HAPCAP) is highlighting March for Meals, a monthlong initiative to bring awareness to senior hunger and isolation. Athens Mayor Steve Patterson is serving as a ‘Community Champion’ to help draw attention to the program.

Editor, The Messenger:

Our senior citizens certainly have stories to tell. I had the chance to listen to several during the St. Patrick’s Day lunch at the Athens Community Center, where local seniors can come every day for lunch. I was honored at the invitation to sit and chat at their tables.

The dining site is run by the Southeast Ohio Regional Kitchen, a program of Hocking Athens Perry Community Action. Every day, the Kitchen provides free lunches to seniors over the age of 60. There is a tremendous sense of community at this site where Athens seniors can share a meal and socialize.

According to the National Institute of Health, social isolation can increase physical and emotional ailments in older adults. Congregate Dining and Meals on Wheels help to bridge that gap for our seniors who do not have close family, transportation or nearby neighbors.

For seniors who are unable to leave their homes due to health reasons, feelings of isolation can increase exponentially, especially in the rural areas of Athens County. This is where Meals on Wheels comes in.

Up to three days a week, the Southeast Ohio Regional Kitchen sends their Meals on Wheels drivers on routes through Athens County. They travel our brick streets, gravel backroads and paved highways to deliver meals to homebound seniors. This is not just a delivery service with a knock on the door. Delivery drivers end up building strong relationships with their clients, and they can even alert the proper authorities when medical attention is needed. Drivers are also able to link seniors with other HAPCAP programs, such as the Home Energy Assistance Program, Athens On Demand Transit, and a monthly food box program.

Every day, 12,000 people in the United States turn 60 years old. As the Baby Boomer population ages, we need to make sure resources are in place to keep them feeling independent and safe. By supporting Meals on Wheels, you are supporting a solution to strengthen our community. You are supporting a lifeline to seniors right here in Athens County.

On this date 47 years ago, President Richard Nixon signed into measure a national nutrition program for seniors aged 60 and older. This stroke of a pen evolved into 225 million home-delivered meals to seniors across the country every year.

My story does not start and end with the St. Patrick’s Day lunch at the Athens Community Center. I grew up in Portland, Oregon, where my mother was a Meals on Wheels driver. I was raised with the value of listening to our seniors. They are the storytellers of our region and I still look up to them. I am proud to champion Athens County’s Meals on Wheels program through the rest of March, and to champion Athens County’s seniors all year long.

For more information about HAPCAP’s Food and Nutrition programs, please visit www.seofoodbank.org.

Steve Patterson

Mayor of Athens

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