Residents were stunned at the news that the Lutheran Service Society would end its financial backing April 30 for the Carnegie Meals on Wheels program, which it had supported for decades. But soon afterward, it was announced that the program would continue with a new sponsor and a new name.
St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church on Washington Avenue in Carnegie, the program’s operating site for more than 30 years, took over May 1 with an expanded service area and a new name, South West Meals on Wheels.
The kitchen at St. John’s has remained the hub for the program, which is continuing to provide and deliver lunches and dinners to recipients. The program’s name change reflects its larger service area, which now encompasses Beechview, Bridgeville, Carnegie, Cecil, Clinton, Collier, Crafton, Dormont, Green Tree, Heidelberg, Imperial, Ingram, Mt. Lebanon, Oakdale, Robinson, Scott, South Fayette, Upper St. Clair and Westwood.
"We switched over May 1 and there hasn’t been one hiccup,“ said Candy Mageras, who has headed the local Meals on Wheels kitchen since 2010.
With escalating food and gas prices and a declining number of volunteers, Lutheran Service Society was forced to look at how Meals on Wheels functioned, explained Michele Taylor, the society’s program manager.
"We had to start looking at different ways for Meals on Wheels to operate," she said.
She said the society board, which did not renew its contract with the Allegheny County Department of Aging, determined "the best way is for local communities to combine."
Leaders at St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church were of similar mind.
"We just decided that it's something we're going to take on ourselves now, with the help of the community," the church's pastor, the Rev. Bruce Nordeen, said.
The church is trying to raise $8,000 to $10,000 for seed money and to buy a van for picking up food donations and delivering meals. It has received a $5,000 grant from the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches of America, Rev. Nordeen said.
Hot, nutritious meals are cooked and delivered fresh each weekday. Sack lunches are included, and frozen meals are provided for the weekends. Recipients also get a box containing nonperishables such as peanut butter, crackers and bottled water for use during weather emergencies.
Ms. Mageras and one other staff member are the only paid employees.
Volunteers — some of whom have delivered meals for decades — use their own cars and gas for deliveries. The food is donated by Trader Joe’s and The Fresh Market, both of which contribute seven days a week, and by Giant Eagle, Costco, Panera Bread, Bedner Farm Market and Portman Farms. Manchester Farms donates and delivers milk.
At the end of the day, any unprepared leftover food is given to food banks or to The Salvation Army.
Carnegie Mayor Jack Kobistek, a Meals on Wheels volunteer, noted that the program's socialization is as meaningful as the food delivery.
"As important as the meal is, so is the point of contact," he said, adding that the delivery people provide access to the outside world for many Meals on Wheels recipients. "Their mission of keeping seniors in their homes and feeding the hungry is something we should all support and embrace."
Ms. Mageras agreed. "We are the only faces some of the people see. We're there to check on them and talk to them."
The beginning of the Meals on Wheels program can be traced back to Great Britain during the blitz of World War II.
In the United States. the first home-delivered meal program began in Philadelphia in 1954. Lutheran Services Society brought the program to Pittsburgh in 1968, when it opened a kitchen at Trinity Lutheran Church on the North Side.
Information: 412-279-5670 or gofundme.com/SouthHillsMealsonWheels.
Carole Gilbert Brown, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.