Meals on Wheels volunteer nourishes and is nourished in return

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By Kirsten Laskey

Gerald “Jerry” Eagon worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory for 40 years. When he retired, he wondered what he would do to pass the time. Little did he know, he would be on the road every week around Los Alamos with a truckload of food and learning one of life’s great lessons.

He has worked as a volunteer in the Meals on Wheels program for six years. He said he enjoys the work and being outside.

Meals on Wheels is a state program and it is run out of the Betty Ehart Senior Center. Eagon said the center’s two chefs prepare the meals for program participants who are homebound and have no way of making their own meals.

Eagon said the service begins when a family member calls and requests that a homebound senior citizen be included in the program.

The meals are then regularly delivered to them in a truck that contains both a heater to keep foods warm and a cooling compartment to keep other food cold.

Although there are only a few people in White Rock who request meals, Eagon keeps busy on the job. On Friday, for instance, he made 20 deliveries.

To be accepted into the Meals on Wheels program, Eagon said individuals must be older than age 60 and unable to prepare or obtain their own meals.

A social worker will determine if a person needs more or less care, he added.

There are a variety of plans available. Food recipients can receive one meal on a given day or as many as seven meals a week.

Eagon said the meals are hot, balanced and nutritious. On Friday, recipients are given two frozen meals for Saturday and Sunday, he added.

“The program is a marvelous idea,” he said. “It allows them to live in their house longer than without it.”

Plus they receive a tasty meal cooked by professionally trained chefs, who apparently can produce a lot with just a few ingredients.

“I didn’t know there are so many ways to make chicken,” Eagon joked.

“At least we know they get one balanced, hot, nutritious meal a day.”

While there are many positive factors with this work, it has its sobering moments, too.

“The hard part of the job is these people become friends,” he said. “For some, you’re the only person they see a day. They really attach to you, and you really attach to them.

But because many of these clients are in their 80s and 90s, “I’ve lost a lot of friends over the years,” Eagon said.

He added he has walked through front doors only to see someone lying on the floor, where they have been all night and most of the morning; undiscovered until Eagon arrived at noon.

The job includes daily monitoring of people, he said, just to make sure they are OK.

There are joyous occasions, too. Eagon said on participants’ birthdays, he usually takes a birthday cake and card. Sometimes, after stumbling through “Happy Birthday to You,” he has suggested they hire a singer.

It’s not just the program’s participants who are affected. For Eagon, it’s also a wakeup about aging and just how tough these senior citizens can be.

“Let’s face it,” he said, “getting old is not for sissies.”

 It has also given some insight into his own life.

“I think the program is marvelous and I hope it’s around when I need it,” Eagon said.