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Michelle Tessier, Deseret News
Barbi Grant delivers a meal from Meals on Wheels to Florida Nyiranzobe during a press conference about the MealsPlus program, which offers Meals on Wheels clients a delivery of fresh fruit and vegetables once a week, at Wheeler Historic Farm, Monday, June 30, 2014.
With MealsPlus, we're stepping up our game, making our food delivery even healthier by adding fresh fruits and vegetables to what our seniors receive. —Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams

MURRAY — For Midge King, a weekly delivery of fresh produce with her Meals on Wheels means she can enjoy a salad with her meal.

"I know a lot of people don't like salad, but let me tell you, when you haven't had it for a long time, it's really good," King said at a news conference Monday at Wheeler Historic Farm.

For Caroline Poulsen, the produce that came along with her most recent Meals on Wheels lunch delivery included sweet cherries.

"The Bing cherries were really a surprise. They were just delicious," Poulsen said at her Cottonwood Heights home.

The women are two of the inaugural 130 participants of the county's MealsPlus program. The initiative, made possible by government, nonprofit and private partners, gives Meals on Wheels participants the option of also receiving weekly deliveries of fresh produce.

"With MealsPlus, we're stepping up our game, making our food delivery even healthier by adding fresh fruits and vegetables to what our seniors receive," said Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.

MealsPlus is made possible through partnerships to grow, harvest, pack and deliver the produce, McAdams said.

Public and private partners have donated plant starts and grown produce. Utah State University's Salt Lake Extension is growing and tending a garden at the county's Wheeler Historic Farm for this purpose. Young people from Salt Lake County's Youth Services Milestone Program sort and package the produce each week.

Meals on Wheels drivers, many of them volunteers, transport the produce to participants such as King and Poulsen on a weekly basis.

King, 68, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis about 35 years ago. The Salt Lake woman worked as a secretary for various doctors and lawyers until her health deteriorated.

King uses a wheelchair, which makes it difficult to come and go with ease, so she relies on programs such as Meals on Wheels to help meet her nutritional needs.

Fresh produce is a welcome addition, she said.

"It's real food. It's like, 'Wow. I like having a salad every day,'" King said.

She also likes to use some of the produce to make "green drinks" with her juicer.

Poulsen, meanwhile, signed up for Meals on Wheels about a year ago to help with her caregiving responsibilities.

"My husband got dementia, and I had a hard time taking care of him and cooking, too," she said.

Her husband, Ernest, died in November, but Poulsen has remained in the home they shared most of their married life. She has a ground-level apartment set up in part of the house, while her grandson and his family live upstairs.

"They're at my beck and call," Poulsen said.

While her grandson's family and her two sons who live nearby bring her meals on the weekend and assist her with other needs, Poulsen said she welcomes the weekday visits from the Meals on Wheels delivery drivers.

"It's something to look forward to every day because it's different. They bring me a menu each month so I know what to expect. They bring a smile on my face," she said.

King, too, said she knows the regular drivers on her route. On a couple occasions, the drivers have called paramedics on her behalf.

"My regular drivers know me and I know them. If you're not there (at home), they worry about you," she said.

Meals on Wheels delivers meals to about 1,500 seniors regularly, said Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services Director Becky Kapp. About 130 seniors are taking part in MealsPlus, but the agency would like to expand that number.

McAdams encouraged Salt Lake County residents who want to help expand the program to contact its manager, Jeremy Hart, at jhart@slco.org or 385-468-3258.

Help is needed weekly at the garden at Wheeler Historic Farm and to prepare the fresh fruit and vegetables for distribution. Monetary contributions would also help extend the program's reach, McAdams said.

"Pitching in to help the vulnerable seniors in our county is all part of being a major metropolitan area that maintains its small-town feel," the mayor said.

For a complete list of partners and more information how to get involved, visit the Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services website at www.slco.org/aging.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com