Article written by Andrea Grajeda on July 15, 2023 - find the original article here.
Volunteer Howard Skolnik, right, serves lunch to Larry Goff at Coal Creek Meals on Wheels in Lafayette on Wednesday. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer - Boulder Daily Camera)
The tables for the Coal Creek Meals on Wheels café are regularly busy with volunteers, sorting through bags making sure they have enough meals necessary for their delivery routes. If volunteers are not preparing to drop off meals to their neighbors, the café is full of laughter and community as patrons get their equitable and accessible meal.
Coal Creek Meals on Wheels, 455 North Burlington St. in Lafayette, has been serving Erie, Lafayette, Louisville and Superior since 1972. Lark Rambo started her position as executive director in 2019. She said Coal Creek Meals on Wheels has always relied on volunteers to continue operating, and the first paid staff member was only brought on in 2010. The organization relies on 290 volunteers and 11 staff members to feed hundreds of east Boulder County residents. Aside from operating the Lafayette café, Rambo said Coal Creek Meals on Wheels also delivers meals directly to homes.
Rambo said Coal Creek Meals on Wheels is about food justice and making sure everyone has an accessible and nutritious meal. The organization offers four programs, with the meal delivery and café programs being the most popular. It also ensures meals meet dietary restrictions. She explained there is dignity in eating a good meal that is catered to someone, and the Coal Creek Meals on Wheels kitchen can accommodate some allergies and also has vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free options. However, celiac-friendly or kosher meals are currently not provided due to kitchen limitations.
‘We serve anyone’
Each Meals on Wheels program is independently run and each operation can differ from one another. “What makes us a little different from other Meals on Wheels programs is that we serve anyone. We don’t have any age or income requirements for our program. Anyone is eligible for our meal deliveries,” Rambo said.
Coal Creek Meals on Wheels does not require any documentation to qualify for services.
Prep cook Danni Kendrick and sous chef Michell Foley are part of the paid staff at the Coal Creek Café. They come in around 5-7 a.m. Monday through Friday and start cooking the more than 200 delivery meals and approximate 40-70 meals for the café service. They prepare and cook everything, from salad dressings to desserts. They both said they are passionate about who their meals feed and what it means to the community. “We’re passionate about who we’re feeding,” Foley said.
The delivery meals are packaged up and delivered by 20 volunteer delivery drivers, who each take a different route in either Erie, Lafayette, Louisville or Superior. Bill and Mary Magnusson have been volunteer delivery drivers for more than five years, and they have built a relationship with the people they drop off the meals to. “It’s nice to help and do something that seems small, but is so good to do,” Mary Magnusson said.
Cathy Stevens has been delivering meals for a month, but has volunteered at other Meals on Wheels organizations for many years. “My gift is hospitality, and I don’t want anyone to go through this alone,” Stevens said. Stevens said even the smallest gestures can mean a world of kindness to others.
The volunteers were managed by Volunteer Manager Elaine Scanlon. She worked with Coal Creek Meals on Wheels for eight years, and her last day was Friday. Luna Collins will take over her role. Collins said food justice is multifaceted and can look different for everyone, but it comes down to making sure people have equitable access to nutritious food.
Helping those who are struggling
The programs at Coal Creek Meals on Wheels have a sliding scale, and people can pay what they can afford for the meals. Rambo explained that food insecurity is a bigger problem in Boulder County than some people may want to think about with the rising cost of living. While Boulder County is perceived as an “affluent community,” there are also many people who are struggling. While Coal Creek Meals on Wheels will help anyone, Rambo said the program aims to primarily help those who are unable to cook their own meals or lack the transportation to buy groceries or visit a food bank.
Rambo noted 40% of Coal Creek Meals on Wheels clients do not pay anything for their meals, and the number of clients has doubled since 2019. “Before the pandemic we were averaging about 130 meals a day. During the pandemic that moved up to around 170. But we’re now doing over 200, so it has escalated quickly,” Rambo said.
The average cost of a meal is $8, but the average contribution is $1.40. Rambo said the economy is still recovering from the pandemic, and the safety nets that were put in place during the pandemic have mostly gone away now. She said some area residents have fallen through the cracks.
The program relies heavily on community support and funds to subsidize the meals. However, the problem is circular as the rising cost of living means donations are lowering, and the average client contribution has also decreased. Rambo said the program also relies on grants and corporate support. While Coal Creek Meals on Wheels has been on track with fundraising goals, Rambo acknowledges it was not an easy accomplishment.
More than just meals
But the organization provides more than just meals, it also provides community.
“Some clients may be really isolated in their homes. So we want to make sure that they have that daily contact with the volunteers when that meal is delivered to them each day,” Rambo said. For some clients, the only relief from isolation they have is the interaction with their Meals on Wheels volunteer delivery driver. Rambo said even a short five-minute conversation can make an incredible difference.
Elaine Sleek and her caretaker Diana Gearhardt are regular visitors of the Coal Creek Café. Sleek has aphasia and struggles to communicate. Gearhardt said for Sleek, the café is a relief from her isolation. Gearhardt said the routine and socialization that the café brings is incredibly important for Sleek. “They honestly have good meals, and it’s a time for her to have a community and just be with others,” Gearhardt said.
Everyone is welcome to the Coal Creek Café, which is open from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for regular hours, with a suggested donation of $3.50 for those ages 60 and older and $6 for anyone under 60. However, Rambo said no one will be turned away. Guests are served on a first-come, first-serve basis. Anyone in need is eligible for the meal delivery service. They can sign up to receive meals at coalcreekmow.org/meal-application.
Coal Creek Meals on Wheels also has a Plates for Pets program, where pet food is given monthly to clients for a suggested $5 monthly donation, and Project Homecoming, where Boulder County residents are eligible to receive five free meals after being released from the hospital. More information about the programs is available at coalcreekmow.org/services. Information to volunteer is available at coalcreekmow.org/get-involved.