Blind World Magazine

Meals on Wheels -- a welcome face during the holiday.

November 24, 2005.

SANTA CRUZ From behind the large windows in his kitchen, Lyle Hayford, 92, likes to watch the world change.

The open fields where he used to play baseball and the creek where he once fished have become a quiet suburban neighborhood.

But Hayford's days are much the same. He spends time in his tidy house, or "fooling around" in his yard, while his wife of 50 years, who recently returned from a brief stay in the hospital, sits in the living room. For breakfast he usually eats toast, and he has a light snack before bed.

He's lived that routine for years.

And lunch is the meal he's looked forward to the past six years.

Shortly past noon every weekday, someone has come to his door with food and a friendly face.

Behind that meal are the volunteers and employees with the nonprofit Meals on Wheels. For nearly 30 years, they've distributed food across the county for seniors like Hayford. By March, the organization will have served 7 million meals.

Today, on Thanksgiving, volunteers will deliver 200 meals to seniors who will be alone for the holiday.

At Hayford's home on Tuesday, Kathy Kearns made the delivery. As program director of Meals on Wheels, she visits each program participant at least twice a year.

"Hi Lyle," she said as she stepped into the house. "How are you?"

"Hi there," Lyle replied, beaming.

He peered at the box with blue eyes magnified by his thick glasses. "Is it fish? That's the best meal we get."

Kearns laughed. "No, not today. But there's chocolate pudding," she replied.

Hayford, legally blind since he was 75, signed up with Meals on Wheels when he and his wife could no longer drive.

His grandson helps out when he can but is frequently too busy.

"They deliver right to our house. You just can't beat it," Hayford said, shaking a head rimmed with faded gray hair.

On a typical day, Meals on Wheels distributes about 800 meals and serves 350 more in each of five dining centers throughout the county.

To receive deliveries, seniors must be over 60 and unable to cook for themselves. There is no income requirement, but 42 percent of those who sign up live at or below poverty level, according to Lisa Burkowitz, program director.

And unlike Hayford, most of the recipients are single.

"People who live alone are grateful and happy to have visitors come to touch base with them," said Burkowitz.

The daily visit performs another purpose checking in to make sure everything is OK. If necessary, the volunteer can call a family member or the police.

"It's not the meal but what the service enables them to do," said Burkowitz. "A lot of seniors have been able to stay at home and remain independent because of this."

Funding, however, is limited, Burkowitz said.

The requested donation of $2.50 per meal does not cover the cost of the service.

Most of the funding comes from federal, state and local governments, but the organization also relies on private contributions and volunteers.

About 150 volunteers provide $75,000 in services a year, according to Burkowitz.

Burkowitz tries to make volunteering as convenient as possible. Even businesses can participate.

Meals on Wheels can drop off a truckload of meals for employees to distribute during their lunch hour.

Meals on Wheels is a part of Community Bridges program, providing assistance to low income and senior residents in Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties.

"It's so satisfying," Kearns said. The motto she's adopted is nourish others while nourishing yourself.

"It's all been good times," Hayford said. "It's been so good, we've stuck with it for a long time."

To volunteer or donate, call Kearns at 464-3180, Ext. 19.

Contact Anne Pinckard at

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