Michael Brandy, Deseret News
Volunteer Michelle Johnston delivers meals for seniors in Pleasant Grove. About 9,800 seniors in Utah benefit from Meals on Wheels, a program that provides a hot meal to homebound seniors as many as five days a week.
Our elderly neighbors through this program receive more than just food from their Meals on Wheels deliveries. They also receive friendship. —Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams

MURRAY — Helen Erickson sat in her recliner Wednesday in the home she's lived in since 1979.

She had fresh lipstick on and her hair done nicely when a volunteer brought in her mail and delivered a hot chicken breast meal with a roll, Jell-O and milk.

Erickson, who turned 90 two months ago but doesn't look a day over 75, is one of 9,800 seniors in Utah who benefit from the Meals on Wheels program.

The volunteer who delivered a meal to Erickson on Wednesday was Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.

McAdams and at least four other mayors helped with the Meals on Wheels program as part of national Community Champions Week, which runs through Friday.

More than 2,200 elected officials and community leaders across the country pledged to help deliver meals for the event, formerly called Mayors for Meals.

After asking McAdams to put the meal in her fridge, Erickson said she enjoys both the food and the company. She said she likes chatting with the volunteers about everything.

"They deliver my meal and ask how I am and if there's anything they can do for me, and they're really nice," Erickson said. "I really appreciate all of them."

According to the Meals on Wheels Association of America, nearly 1 in 6 seniors faces hunger — a number that increased 88 percent from 2001 to 2011.

Meals on Wheels provides a hot meal to homebound seniors at least 60 years old up to five days a week around noon. For about 10 percent of clients, frozen meals are provided for weekends.

Last year, 365,000 meals were distributed in Salt Lake County. The Meals on Wheels program serves 1,500 of the county's 140,000 adults ages 60 and up, according to Lori Bays, director of human services for Salt Lake County.

"This program saves taxpayer dollars by providing preventive services but assists customers in remaining at home where they want to be and keeping them out of expensive care facilities," Bays said.

The program is a vital part of the services that enable seniors to remain independent and stay in their homes, she said. It also helps alleviate some stress for their caretakers.

"Meals on Wheels is not just a government program. It is a community program," McAdams said. "The rising costs of fuel, prescription medicine and health care often force low-income or fixed-income seniors to choose between food and other critical needs."

For Salt Lake County, 45 percent of the $7.84 per meal is funded by the county. The federal government provides 25 percent, the state funds 23 percent and donations and fees make up the rest. A $2.50 contriubtion is suggested for each meal recipient but is not required.

Volunteers pick up the meals and deliver them to eight to 10 seniors in their community. They also help keep the seniors happy and healthy by checking up on their health and spending some time with them.

"Our elderly neighbors through this program receive more than just food from their Meals on Wheels deliveries. They also receive friendship," McAdams said.

Jeremy Hart, Salt Lake County program manager, stressed the importance of volunteers, who deliver about one-third of the meals. Hart said about 50 businesses and organizations help deliver meals.

"If we did not have volunteers, we would not be able to serve as many people as we do," he said.

McAdams also delivered a meal to Valene Mellenthin, 62, who said it's not every day the mayor brings you a meal.

"Sometimes I have a really hard time just getting up and around, and just to be able to have some nutritious meals … because I can't stand up very long to cook things," Mellenthin said. "It's really been a blessing, I'll tell ya."

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: Madeleine6