Have you ever thought about what would happen when you got older and you were no longer able to go to the store or cook your own meals, but wanted to remain in your own home and maintain most of your independence?
Many area seniors have found themselves in this very position and have looked to local organizations for help.
The Success Through Engagement and Partnership (STEP) Office of Aging is a local organization that is focused on improving the well-being of older adults, ages 60 and over, in Lycoming and Clinton counties.
STEP has three senior community center locations in Clinton County and five locations in Lycoming County, one of which is located in the STEP office building, 2138 Lincoln St.
The organization offers a number of valuable services to older members of the community, including transportation to doctor appointments and grocery shopping, home health services, cleaning, personal care, family and caregiver support and one of the most well-known services - the Meals on Wheels program.
Meals on Wheels provides hot home-delivered noon-time meals to persons age 60 and older, who are homebound and cannot cook for themselves.
Caseworkers also visit clients' homes to assess their needs for Meals on Wheels, as well as other services provided by STEP.
The program is almost entirely volunteer run and is managed and coordinated out of the various centers, five days a week - Monday through Friday.
Because of the lack of adequate funding, many other meals programs in surrounding counties have gone down to once-a-week home delivery, but Lycoming and Clinton Counties are proud to be able to maintain daily deliveries.
"We hope to continue daily delivery," said Frederick Shrimp, director of STEP. "I think that is an aspect to the program that is very important ... We are able to help people maintain themselves in their homes for a longer period of time through the program."
The Lycoming County United Way plays a role in helping to continue the daily delivery of meals by providing funding for the program. The other main source of funding comes from the meals clients themselves.
"They are given the opportunity to donate their service, and most of them do," Shrimp said.
Frey's Commissary in Montoursville has worked with STEP since the early 1980s, providing the meals for the program. They make the food and deliver it to the centers, where the volunteers take over sorting and packaging the meals for delivery.
"The volunteers that coordinate the meals in the center are very valuable, as well as those out in the field," Shrimp said. "The program relies on volunteers all the way through - from packing to delivering."
Leslie Houser, 53, has been volunteering for the program at the Lincoln Center three days a week for more than a year.
She comes into the center around 9 a.m. and helps to coordinate the bags that the food goes into for the seven different routes. The food normally arrives from Frey's around 10:30 a.m. and Houser then helps to put the food items on top of the bags to be packed for delivery.
"(The food) comes in these big oven boxes and we rotate them around and take temperatures to make sure the hot meals are hot enough and things like milk are cold enough," Houser said.
She began volunteering because her late father-in-law used to receive meals and since she stopped working, she had time on her hands and wanted to help out with the program.
Houser also is a meal delivery driver. She said she likes delivering the best because she has the same route on the three days she delivers and she has gotten to form bonds with those on her route.
"I like to help those who need it," she said. "I like providing that service for them. It makes me very happy to know I'm helping someone who needs help ... Giving back and not expecting anything in return."
Houser is in one of the lowest age groups who volunteer for the program - 17 percent of volunteers are age 60 and below. The largest age group of volunteers at 34 percent are in their 70s, and even two percent are in their 90s.
Charles Tice, 85, has been volunteering for the program since 1987. He typically is a driver while his wife and their friend are "runners," or those who take the meals from the vehicle to the client's home.
"I just think it's such an important program because many times the Meals on Wheels volunteer is the only person those people see that day," Tice said. "I have one fella I see on Fridays, he's my buddy. I just think it's so vital and so important. To me, it's such a good service."
Many of those who receive the meals look forward not only to having a nice hot meal for lunch, but also to seeing the volunteers that many of the clients call their friends or even "angels."
Gladys Saar, 85, lives in Newberry and has been receiving meals for about six years.
Saar, who is blind and lives alone, said she is glad to get the meals and likes how friendly the volunteers are to her.
"For people who can't cook or go near a stove, it's a wonderful thing, I appreciate it," Saar said. "My Wednesday (volunteer) is a real nice lady. If I need anything cut up, she does that for me."
For Mary Anne Johnson, 83, of Newberry, Meals on Wheels volunteers provide her with a bit of socialization. She enjoys seeing and talking with them each day. She even has had volunteers who she previously had worked with at Sylvania, who she enjoyed seeing again.
"Meals on Wheels are just fine. They really have helped me out a lot," Johnson said. "They always see that on holidays I have a dinner. They will bring me in something special every once in a while."
All of the meals provided to the clients meet federal guidelines for nutrition and special dietary accommodations are made for those clients who require it.
"We have many special diets," Shrimp said. "Anyone who is on Meals on Wheels, we send a diet form to their physician for them to designate what diet the person should be on."
Clients are given "emergency meals" that they can keep frozen at their homes for times when the drivers cannot deliver the meals to their home, due to inclement weather or other circumstances that keep them away.
"Sometimes we have to cancel due to bad weather ... 57 percent of our volunteers are over the age of 70, so you don't want to put them at risk," Shrimp said. "We are not only thinking about our clients, we're also thinking about our volunteers when we're making those decisions."
Shrimp said on occasion volunteers have found a client in a health-compromised situation. The volunteers were able to either call 911 or the clients' emergency contacts to make sure the individual was OK.
Over the period of a year, Lycoming County has had 300 Meals on Wheels volunteers and more than 630 clients receiving meals. There are about 400 volunteers serving more than 1,000 clients in Lycoming and Clinton Counties combined.
To find out more about STEP and the Meals on Wheels program, or to learn about volunteer opportunities, call 323-3096 or visit www.stepcorp.org.