By Maggie Lee
On a frosty midmorning, a car stops in front of a sturdy, brick ranch house. A woman hops out of her Chevrolet Impala, takes a plastic tray from an insulated box in the car’s trunk and carries it to the front door.
The door opens and out comes a puff of warm air. An elderly woman inside engages in a few moments of small talk with Sally Eggleston, who hurries back to her Chevy and heads to her next important visit.
Every day, at least 2,500 senior citizens in metro Atlanta and middle Georgia receive a meal thanks to a local nonprofit organization called Senior Connections.
“Oh, it is lovely,” says Bess Marianes, a client of Meals on Wheels for about the past three years. “I can’t do the cooking like that.”
Marianes is like many other Senior Connections clients in the area: her mobility is limited, and that keeps her from cooking fresh and healthy meals.
However, she’s a long way from requiring assistance for all of her everyday needs. A warm, delivered nutritious meal helps keep her in what is proven to be the healthiest place for many people: home.
“Pardon the pun,” says Eggleston, who drives a route and serves as the nonprofit’s chief marketing officer, “but the meat and potatoes of Senior Connections is making sure people eat.”
Indeed, the 37-year-old nonprofit organization has become a regional caterer. A truck called “Big Mamma” leaves a huge Chamblee kitchen twice a week, loaded with frozen meals that are bound for Macon.
Then – in concert with other metro kitchens – meals are prepared for north Fulton, Cobb, Rockdale, and DeKalb counties.
“There is more need than people realize,” said Debra Furtado, Senior Connections’ CEO. In the 10-county metro area, some 11 percent of seniors are below the federal poverty line, according to recent U.S. Census statistics.
While food is Senior Connections’ core business, there’s plenty more services wrapped into the nonprofit’s mission of independent living for seniors.
A big one: keeping houses livable for seniors.
Need a step-free shower? New water heater? For a relatively small fee, Senior Connections will do a fix by hiring a bonded, licensed and dependable contractor. They also handle all negotiations. For property owners age 60 and above who live on a limited income the nonprofit can administer county, state and federal grants for repairs. One such project tallied $45,000 for a new roof.
The demand for the nonprofit’s services – from running senior centers to providing home healthcare, to training the elderly to use computers – is only going to increase, Furtado said.
As the last of the baby boomers hit senior citizenship by 2030, she said, 1 in 5 metro residents will be 60 or older. Eggleston said that many of them were never in jobs with pensions, leaving them at risk financially.
Atlanta’s climate attracts retirees from elsewhere, leaving some transplants far from family. To take care of everyone, “we’ll have to see a change,” Furtado predicts.
Marianes is a transplant. A one-time Chicago teacher, she followed family down here. It was her granddaughters, not her son, she jokes. The nonprofit, by bringing her meals, allows her to stay in the home she shared with her husband. “I’m not going to drop – stop what I’m doing,” she said.
While the demand for Meals on Wheels grows — there’s always a waiting list — the resources don’t always keep pace. A corporate donation of $150,000 helped the agency expand its services, but that money runs out this month, and some seniors face a loss of service unless more funds can be raised.
Yet, Eggleston says: “If you have a senior who might have a need, call us … if we can’t help, we can refer you to someone who can.”
It’s the same contact information for donors and prospective volunteers: 770-455-7602 and www.srconn.org.