Meals on Wheels benefits deliverers and recipients

Barry De Libero delivers Meals on Wheels

As a lunch and dinner door checker, scanning Cornell ID cards at North Star Dining for nearly a decade, Ai-Ling Chen cannot go home to check on and make dinner for her parents, who have lived with her since November.

She counts on FoodNet Meals on Wheels to do that.

Barry De Libero, who worked for Cornell for more than 20 years, has been delivering Meals on Wheels to senior citizens for nearly two years. He said “it is gratifying to know that just a simple good meal can enhance the health and life of our elderly and home-bound citizens.”

Both Chen and De Libero benefit from the United Way of Tompkins County, which each year provides significant grants to FoodNet Meals on Wheels as part of its Hunger and Food Security campaign.

Chen’s parents, both in their late 80s, had moved to senior housing in Groton about two years ago. But her father had a stroke this past October and was moved to a nursing home. “Although his mind was clear, with the language barrier, he had difficulty explaining his needs to the staff, so he would try to do things himself,” Chen said. “He fell several times.”

Chen remodeled her home so that it was handicapped-accessible and moved her father there in November, hiring a nurse’s aide to look after him while she was working; Chen’s mother moved in as well. Meals on Wheels comes on weekdays, Chen said, bringing her parents a hot, nutritious meal.

Chen explained that she actually works two jobs and does not have the time to cook for her parents. Nor does she have the knowledge to cook for special needs, such as diabetes. “Meals on Wheels is a very good program that helps a lot of people,” Chen said.

De Libero delivers Meals on Wheels to 32-35 people on the Northside route three days each week, and to 13-15 in the Ellis Hollow apartments. He knows all nine of the program’s routes, delivering “to places and roads I never knew existed.”

There is more to being a driver for Meals on Wheels than delivering food, De Libero said. “Each route driver also has certain tasks to do in the kitchen – food preparation, cold meal and sandwich bagging, hotbox filling and handling, cooler transfers,” he said. This winter was especially difficult, with cold temperatures, hazardous driving conditions, dangerous walkways and frozen vehicle doors, he said.

But the work is gratifying and “the day goes by fast. The people working are the most efficient, hardworking folks you will find,” De Libero said.

FoodNet Meals on Wheels provides meals and other nutrition services that promote dignity, wellbeing and independence for older adults and other persons in need in Tompkins County. The program enables older adults to avoid or delay costly institutionalization by staying in their homes or communities. The program also provides nutrition screening, assessment, education and nutrition counseling.

HELP END HUNGER The deadline for the Cornell United Way Campaign, including the Hunger and Food Security Fund, is April 15. Your contribution – no matter how small – will make a difference. Contribute directly to the Hunger and Food Security Fund or to the more encompassing Cornell United Way campaign.