By Gerhard Schneibel

A person 60 or older returning from the hospital after an operation will likely feel a sense of security at knowing their basic human needs are met, says Elizabeth Igleheart, the executive director of Senior Services North Fulton.

Her organization’s Healing Meals program, started with an $8,000 grant from the Sandy Springs Society, is intended to meet the need for food free of charge to the recipient. Part of the grant paid for used freezers from the Community Action Center in which to store meals.

The program is similar to Meals on Wheels, but while Meals on Wheels delivers hot food daily, Healing Meals delivers a batch of 10 frozen dinners so the convalescents don’t have to worry about what they’ll eat for three days. Once people recover from surgery, they can move from Healing Meals to Meals on Wheels.

Sometimes seniors who live alone don’t eat enough because cooking and eating aren’t much fun, Igleheart said. “There is a real risk of malnutrition amongst seniors. TV dinners are typically not particularly nutritious. These are prepared to be nutritious. It’s much healthier than doing TV dinners.”

The meals have “no dishes, no preparation time, and it’s nutritionally balanced to provide two-thirds of a person’s nutritional needs,” Igleheart said. “When people are being discharged from the hospital, they have their meals right now and not two weeks later.”

Linda Gold, who works at the Dorothy Benson Senior Center and coordinates Healing Meals and Meals on Wheels, said Healing Meals recipients “all say the food is good. So we’ve had no problems with the food.”

Signing up for Meals on Wheels takes about two weeks because Fulton County pays for the program. Healing Meals, on the other hand, is privately funded and bureaucracy-free.

“It’s a pilot, so we’re still working through some of the kinks,” Igleheart said. “We have available capacity to deliver more and sign up more people for Healing Meals.”

Senior Services North Fulton has an agreement with St. Joseph’s Hospital under which the hospital provides the names of recently released patients from Sandy Springs. Healing Meals is adding Northside Hospital and the Manor Care rehabilitation facility.

One goal is for people to contact Healing Meals before entering the hospital. “Hopefully we’ll get more people sort of self-referring to us,” Igleheart said. “The hope is that some of the Healing Meals recipients will then become Meals on Wheels recipients.”

Pat Decker, vice president of fundraising for the Sandy Springs Society, said Senior Services received a grant for Healing Meals because the program “sets a unique niche.”

“When someone is released from the hospital, they’re not feeling well. They’re strong, but they’re not 100 percent. And that’s when they really need that nutrition the most,” she said. “It’s just a very compelling program. It’s unique. That gap when someone leaves the hospital is a really critical time.”

Walter and Devra Kolesky volunteer to deliver the meals.

“It’s a great idea,” Walter said. “It’s been fairly slow getting it off the ground, though. The people who we’ve taken the meals to have been extremely appreciative. It’s been very heartwarming to see the smiles on their faces. I just wish more people would take advantage of the program, but, like I said, it’s in its infancy.”

Devra said the prepared meals give recipients a feeling of self-sufficiency and make food “one worry that they don’t need to have.”