Meals on Wheels East Pasco executive director Beth Aker paid a visit to the East Pasco Networking Group’s Nov. 12 breakfast meeting at IHOP in Dade City, to give some updates on the 501c3 nonprofit organization and its upcoming initiatives.
Each day, Meals on Wheels East Pasco provides hot, balanced and nutritious meals to seniors, people with disabilities and other members of the Dade City and Zephyrhills communities who have limited ability to shop or prepare meals for themselves.
“If you’re hungry, we’re gonna feed ya. It’s just that simple,” Aker said of the nonprofit’s mission.
In addition to Aker, Meals on Wheels relies on the help of dozens of volunteers to prepare and deliver meals from its facility on 15th Avenue in Zephyrhills.
Since taking over its operations in 2015, Aker said Meals on Wheels has partnered with 10 other charities to receive food donations and contributions from a host of local grocery stores, businesses and big box stores.
Those partnerships have allowed the agency to cut spending on food alone from $40,000 to $50,000 per year, to about $500 per month now, she said.
“When we were spending all that money, we were just spinning our wheels trying to keep up with everything. Now we have partnered with so many organizations that recognized not to throw things away,” Aker said.
All told, the agency feeds upwards of 1,500 people per week, Aker said.
That figure includes supplying bulk quantities of food to groups, such as Moore-Mickens Education Center and Cornerstone Center for Women, as well as area homeless.
“When I tell you that we give them food, we don’t just give them our leftover bread.
“They get meats, and they get vegetables and fruit and nonperishables, and they go out with 10 or 12 or 15 boxes of food to support their organization, and we do that every single day,” she explained.
As for its meal delivery service, Aker said the organization works to cater to the medical needs of the many seniors it regularly serves, whether they have diabetes, diverticulitis, heart problems and so on. She noted, meals aren’t prepared with salt or sugar, but are far from bland, with diverse menu choices each week.
“It’s not a TV dinner, by any stretch of the imagination,” she quipped.
Aker added the organization also makes it a point to help celebrate each senior’s birthday or anniversary with cards, cakes and more.
It’s the personal touch that she believes the homebound seniors, who sometimes get lonely, appreciate.
She went as far to say the organization has become “the eyes and ears of family members who live elsewhere” for those seniors.
“We get to be there when things happen to them, when they’re not well, when they’ve fallen,” Aker said.
“We have to take care of each other. We’re all aging. Unless we pass away, we’re not getting out of this without aging,” she said.
With that, Aker revealed the the agency’s next major goal is to build a community resource center that could serve seniors, veterans and single-parent families. Services would help those in need get help for elder law, reverse mortgages, food insecurities and more.
Aker said such a facility is something “missing” in East Pasco. Possible locations she listed include the abandoned SunTrust building on Gall Boulevard in Zephyrhills, or, building upon existing property Meals on Wheels owns.
The project’s first dinner fundraiser was held earlier this month at First Church of the Nazarene in Zephyrhills; Aker said the project’s also begun to receive support from some state representatives. “It was just a drop in the bucket, but we have to start somewhere,” she said of the initial fundraiser.
Ultimately, Aker wants the resource center to be a place “to give our seniors a purpose for today, and give our youth a purpose for tomorrow.”
She put it like this: “At the end of my day, I am a servant, and I want to be able to make that difference, and providing resources for people who don’t know where to go, who are afraid to reach out, they’re terrified, they live alone — whatever their picture looks like, they should have someplace to just pick up a phone say, ‘Can you help me?’”
Elsewhere, Aker said she would someday like to expand Meals on Wheels’ meal delivery service to the Wesley Chapel area, but currently doesn’t have the volunteer capacity to make it a regular route every day.
“I would love to be in that area, to expand over to there, but the logistics portion of that is a little bit larger,” she said.
Published November 20, 2019