On any given weekday, an army of volunteers delivers about 350 meals all over the Town of Tonawanda to residents who have difficulty grocery shopping or cooking for themselves – many of them senior citizens.
New at the helm of this operation is Dan Wiles, who took over in May as executive director of Ken-Ton Meals on Wheels after retiring in January as director of the town’s Youth, Parks and Recreation Department.
Wiles took it easy for a while, playing golf with family in California and basketball at the Knights of Columbus, but soon found himself ready for a new challenge.
“I’d say I’m in my honeymoon period,” said Wiles, 57, from his office in the Parkside Village Community Center. “I’m very impressed with the staff and the volunteers.”
One in nine town residents – 8,380 – is age 75 or older, according to a draft report by the Mobile Safety-Net Team, which was created in 2009 by the John R. Oishei Foundation. It is one of the highest proportions in Erie County. And about 500 residents receive the hand-delivered meals throughout the year.
Residents pay $6.50 for one hot and one cold meal but it costs the program $12.97 to produce them when expenses are factored in. The difference is made up through donations and grants.
“You want to be careful about what you charge the clients because money’s tight for them, too,” he said. “It’s a balancing act.”
Two interns from Buffalo State College’s nutrition program recently completed a menu review with the kitchen staff to lower sodium and calories while providing one-third of the daily recommended intake for vitamins in each meal, Wiles said.
When Wiles started, he noticed a need for a new refrigerator and new coolers and hot bags for deliveries to ensure that the meals remain at an appropriate temperature.
“There’s probably about a $10,000 investment that we’ve got to make in those things soon,” he said. “Any support from the community is greatly appreciated.”
A more immediate need, however, is for servers and drivers to deliver meals each late morning along the program’s 17 routes. Many of its current volunteers are retired teachers who weren’t ready to kick back and do nothing.
The group’s website is kentonmealsonwheels.org and prospective volunteers can call 874-3595. It is also on Facebook as “Kenton Meals on Wheels.”
“You don’t have to volunteer any more than you can afford to give,” Wiles said. “We’ll be willing to work with everybody.”