EAU CLAIRE, Wis. — Kitchen staff arrive at the former Fall Creek Valley Care Center at 4:30 to 5 a.m. Monday through Friday to make nutritious meals for close to 400 seniors in Eau Claire and Chippewa counties.
Meals might include potatoes peeled by hand, homemade bread and desserts made from scratch.
"The comments on our food is that it is exceptional," said Linda Struck, director of the Aging & Disability Resource Center of Eau Claire County.
Staff and volunteers recently scooped baked apples, broccoli and cornbread with pulled pork onto individual plates, which were then sealed before being placed in containers to keep them warm. Items that needed to be kept cold, including milk, were placed in coolers. All were then sent out for delivery, the Leader-Telegram reported.
About 275 to 300 meals are delivered daily during the week to two meal sites — one in Augusta and the other in Eau Claire — and drop-off locations, where volunteers can pick them up for delivery to seniors' homes through the Meals On Wheels program, said Kaylynn Stahlbusch, outreach coordinator for the ADRC.
"I don't know what we'd do without our volunteers," she said, noting many are retirees and staff at area businesses and students also volunteer.
The Senior Dining congregate meal program ensures that older adults have access to at least one nutritious meal and the opportunity to socialize with others. Meals are reduced in fat, have no added salt and provide a minimum of one-third of recommended daily nutrient intake for older adults.
Monday through Friday, meals are provided at lunchtime at St. John's Apartments and Augusta Senior and Community Center. In addition, an evening meal is provided on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month at the L.E. Phillips Senior Center.
Through the Meals On Wheels program, meals are delivered around lunchtime Monday through Friday primarily by volunteers throughout Eau Claire County to county residents 60 and older who are "essentially homebound." In addition, extra meals are available to those who need help with weekend and holiday meals, and a cake, card and small gift are delivered to seniors on their birthdays.
The program also provides a daily check on individuals receiving meals, Struck said. "I think a lot of (meal recipients') family members like that."
Chippewa County contracts with the ADRC for about 100 meals each weekday, and they are picked up in Fall Creek.
About 14 months ago, the ADRC began preparing food for the county's nutrition program at the former nursing home, which closed in the spring of 2017.
"We started out very slowly," said Becky Hinzmann, ADRC nutrition supervisor.
Historically, the ADRC had used a caterer/contracted vendor to provide the meals. The agency had contracts with Augusta Nursing & Rehabilitation, Fall Creek Valley Care Center and HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital through Dec. 31, 2017.
In partnership with the county purchasing department, the ADRC sought proposals for 2018 vendors, according to a fact sheet prepared for the Eau Claire County Board. Only one bid, which would provide services for the area served by the hospital, was received, but that bidder later rescinded its proposal, leaving no interested vendors for the Altoona, Eau Claire and Fall Creek areas for 2018.
Augusta Nursing & Rehabilitation submitted a quote of $9 per meal for the Augusta and Fairchild areas in 2018, which was a 30 percent higher. The facility later revised its quote to $7.20 per meal.
Instead, the ADRC proposed leasing the vacant former Fall Creek Valley Care Center and preparing all food there, and county officials approved the move. The agency has a lease to use the kitchen, all equipment, the dining room, laundry facilities and offices through 2020.
"We have such a great facility here, one that has worked out really well for us," Struck said. In addition, "the Fall Creek community has really embraced us."
And the seniors served by the ADRC's nutrition program, particularly Meals On Wheels, have too.
The "meals just keep getting better," according to one client.
"We are pleased with the choices and the amount of flavoring/spices," another wrote on a comment card.
"They've been a lifesaver — literally," read another card, referring to the meals.
An AP Member Exchange shared by the Leader-Telegram.