MANSFIELD — At face value it’s just food.

Senior citizens have the option of receiving home-delivered meals via the Ohio District 5 Area Agency on Aging (if they meet eligibility requirements) or grabbing a bite at any of the local congregate meal sites.

Both services help ensure that seniors are getting a well-balanced meal — but that’s not the only benefit.

“It’s more than just a meal," said Trae Turner, vice president of community living with the Area Agency on Aging. 

The socialization that’s associated with these services is equally as beneficial as the food itself, giving seniors—who may live alone and don’t have many opportunities for social interaction—the chance to connect with others.

“At the congregate meal sites, someone may come in for the first time and not know anyone, then two or three weeks later they’re sitting at the table with their new friends they’ve made,” said Teresa Cook, chief of marketing and development at the Area Agency on Aging.

“Many of the people who attend the congregate meal sites are living alone. They may not have anyone to talk to.”

In 2017, the Area Agency on Aging (together with its community partners) provided 60,749 congregate meals and 292,613 home-delivered meals throughout the agency’s nine-county region which includes Ashland, Crawford, Marion, Morrow, Seneca, Knox, Richland, Huron and Wyandot counties. 

Meals are funded with local, state and federal funds, including local levies in each of the nine counties. 

The Agency supports 18 congregate meal sites in nine counties (see list above); however, there are other congregate meal sites throughout the area, such as the Lexington Senior Civic Center. Know of any other sites that aren’t on the list? Please share in the comment section below.

Cook likened the Agency's congregate meal site, which takes place every Tuesday at Hawkins Corner, to the TV show “Cheers.”

“Everyone knows your name,” she said. “We’re human beings; we need that connection with someone else.”

Last September, the Agency launched a congregate meal site, calling it the “Campus Dining Program," at Ohio State Mansfield/North Central State College Campus.

“The congregate meals were designed to be held in different dining sites for individuals that can get a nutritious meal, along with socialization,” said Duana Patton, CEO of the Area Agency on Aging.

Home-delivered meals also work toward that end.

“Home-delivered meals are delivered typically to those individuals who could not otherwise get out and have a meal in a congregate setting,” Patton said. "Sometimes it’s an individual who can’t get to the store and has an array of groceries, or somebody who can’t prepare meals safely.”

The service is virtually the same as Meals on Wheels, which refers individuals to the Ohio District 5 Area Agency on Aging, Inc., Ashland County Council on Aging, Seniors On Center in Mt. Gilead, and the Crawford County Council on Aging, Inc. on its website to learn more about local meal programs. 

The Area Agency on Aging asks that those interested in the home-delivered meal program call the Agency at 419-522-5612 for an assessment.

“We try to link people with most appropriate service that meets their needs,” Turner said.

Patton said her mother-in-law receives home-delivered meals via the Crawford County Council on Aging.

“One of the benefits to these home-delivered meals, and even the congregate meals, is its support to the caregiver,” she said.

Additionally, the service offers many homebound older adults a sense of connection to the outside world.

“Meal deliverers check on the welfare of the homebound elderly and often become friends,” the Area Agency on Aging website says. “They are trained to report any health or other problems they may notice during their visits.” 

Sometimes people approach the Agency with a need that’s not food-related, but in speaking with them, the Agency identifies that part of their problem is they’re not getting a healthy, well-balanced meal.

“We had that happen with someone recently who came to the Agency not asking about food, but it happened to be the day of our congregate meal and our navigator realized they were hungry, walked them over to the meal, and now they’re a regular at the meal site,” Cook said.

“With new friends,” Patton added.

This Solutions Journalism story is brought to you in part by the generous support of our Newsroom Partners: Spherion, Visiting Nurses Association, PR Machine Works, Nanogate/Jay Systems, DRM Productions, OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital, Richland Bank, Mechanics Bank, Area Agency on Aging, and many others. To learn more about Solutions Journalism at Richland Source click the "About Solutions Journalism."

Thrive Reporter

Thrive reporter. Graduate of Ontario High School and Ohio State Mansfield. Wife. Mom. Dog lover. Fitness enthusiast. Plant collector. Mac and cheese consumer.