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In partnership with families, the Greater Richmond ARC creates life-fulfilling opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

Holiday Spirit from Your Kitchen

(Reprinted from the Richmond Times-Dispatch article by Bill Lohmann)

Here's the holiday spirit come to life:

Java Berrow walking up to a home with someone's
dinner, knocking on the door and cheerfully announcing,'Meals on Wheels!'

'I like helping people who don't get out to get their food,' Berrow said. Here's another thing: Berrow's good work is not limited to the holidays. She delivers meals four days a week to the homebound as part of a small army of volunteers from The Greater Richmond ARC, a not-for-profit agency that helps people with developmental disabilities lead fulfilling lives.

Our guys and girls love it because they get to go out there and make a contribution to something valuable,' said Douglas Payne, a spokesman for ARC. 'It gives them a tremendous sense of satisfaction and gratification. It's a very good thing.'

So is the social interaction -- for the ARC volunteers and the people receiving the meals. Sometimes, the Meals on Wheels volunteer dropping off a meal is the only person checking on the recipient's well-being.

'When they see [volunteers] walking up the sidewalk with a smile, it's not just a meal,' Payne said. 'It's a good friend they're used to seeing on a regular basis.'

Meals on Wheels is a home-delivered meal service that relies on volunteers to provide food daily to seniors and people with disabilities. This year, about 2,500 volunteers will prepare, pack and deliver about 265,000 meals to more than 1,500 clients in central Virginia.

The meals are prepared at the Community Kitchen, a bright, new, environmentally friendly facility next to the Central Virginia Foodbank, which joined with Meals on Wheels earlier this year to form FeedMore Inc. The emphasis, said Director of Food Services Sally Pluot, is on 'Southern-style comfort food, because that's what our
clients want.'

Their specialties include items such as smothered pork chops, baked cheese grits and Southern greens, pot roast with mashed potatoes, green beans and spoon bread, Pluot said on a recent morning in the kitchen. Workers -- most of them volunteers -- were filling small cups with
chopped fruit at one table and spooning pumpkin custard into cups at another.

They aim for the meals to be nutritious, easy to heat up and as close to tasting home-cooked as possible, Pluot said.

Which brings us to this: Meals on Wheels is built on the concept of neighbor-helping-neighbor. During the holiday season, it's natural for people to want to do something special for the homebound. A gift of food is an obvious way to spread good cheer, but precisely what would make an appropriate present is less obvious.

'Soft, warm and comforting,' Pluot said of the sort of food that often hits the spot with the homebound. "When people don't feel good, that's what they want. Chicken and dumplings. Old-fashioned macaroni and cheese.'

Homemade macaroni could be an enlightening exercise for the giver since many people of a certain age, Pluot has learned, have never made macaroni and cheese that didn't come in a box. It's a favorite, regularly served dish from Meals on Wheels.

'We grate the cheese, whip the egg and milk together and pour it over it,' Pluot said. 'It's soft and just about everyone can eat it.'

That's another thing to consider: Lots of older people with health problems have restricted diets, so be careful. Colleen Keller, vice president of programs at Meals on Wheels and a registered dietitian, recommended going easy on sugary gifts as well as anything with nuts. A loaf of homemade bread might be a good option, she said.

Here's another possibility: 'A lot of our clients used to cook a lot and can't anymore,' Keller said, 'but they might like someone else to make their favorite recipes. Maybe you could ask them for a favorite recipe and offer to make it for them.'

Photo: Meals on Wheels volunteers Patrick Riley, Java Berrow and John Darby (from left), all from The Greater Richmond ARC, deliver prepared meals several times a week to clients and places such as The Daily Planet Medical Respite

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