The holiday season is approaching quickly — whether we are prepared or not. Amid holiday prep and stress, it is a time

to reflect and give back to our community.

The Meals on Wheels of NEPA Holiday Blanket Drive has provided comfort for more than six years. The program asks for donations of blankets, socks and toiletries. These items are distributed to more than 1,000 elderly and homebound clients living throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania.Weekly visits from volunteers to deliver meals are often the only contact individuals have with others. The gift of a blanket and toiletries might seem like a small gesture, but it may be the brightest gift during the holiday season for people who are unable to leave their homes.

The agency is seeking new, unused and unopened donations of blankets, toiletries and socks or monetary donations for the drive. Please contact Meals on Wheels Community Services at 570-346-2421, or to get involved.

More than 20% of people in Lackawanna County are 65 or older. This percentage will continue to increase as the number of retired individuals grows. This vulnerable population is characteristically isolated, poorly nourished, declining in health and face decreased ability to live independently.

Meals on Wheels of NEPA supports the independent living of homebound seniors and disabled people through the delivery of nutrition and supportive services. The agency provides regular contact with clients through our robust set of programs, building a rapport that decreases social isolation and helps fight depression. Meals on Wheels of NEPA not only faced challenges brought by the COVID-19 head on, but did so while reaching more clients than ever with increased safety protocols.

The core programming of Meals on Wheels Community Services of NEPA is the Home Delivered Meals program. Individuals whose life circumstances make it difficult or impossible for them to prepare needed nourishment receive a hot meal delivered to them by volunteers or caring staff. In addition to keeping homebound individuals well-nourished, Meals on Wheels often provides the only human contact many of these people experience each day. During the 2020-21 fiscal year, the agency served 178,202 meals to 1,383 clients.

In addition to the Home Delivered Meal Program, Meals on Wheels of NEPA developed Community Health Initiatives that collectively address a gap in health and human services. CHIs are cost-efficient programs that focus on the needs of clients that fall between home-delivered meals and the deployment of in-home personal care or nursing services. CHIs include Community Health Outreach & Meals Program, Treasured Friends Pet Food Program and Fast Track Home from the Hospital Program.

CHOMP is a community health initiative that integrates staff, volunteers and health care professional students from local colleges into our community service delivery. CHOMP assists participating clients by providing nutritional support, light housekeeping, personal assistance and regular health and wellness checks. The goal of CHOMP is to provide the extra services our clients need to remain living independently in their communities with safe and clean environments.

Health care professional students arrange monthly visits with clients to deliver their meal, have amiable conversations and provide a general health and wellness check including a nutrition and fall risk assessment. Participating students gain experience with the growing population of older adults through an interprofessional service-learning model.

Treasured Friends delivers pet food and supplies to participating clients along with their home-delivered meal. Pets offer emotional support to our older, disabled, and homebound clients, while providing opportunities for exercise, and improving a client’s quality of life. Pet ownership has even been found to be a protective factor against cardiovascular disease and mortality. Providing these pet food supplies helps keep a cherished pet with their companion and out of shelters. More significantly, the Treasured Friends program reduces food sharing by clients with their pets.

Fast Track Home from the Hospital Program provides up to 20 meals free of charge to adults over the age of 18 who have recently been discharged from a rehabilitation facility, nursing home or hospital. The goal of this program is to provide necessary nutrition to aid in the healing process, while decreasing the community’s costly readmission rate. This past fiscal year the program served 4,311 meals to 293 clients, which was 100% of referrals for participation.

Our clients rely on the support of dedicated volunteers and generous donations from the community. Programs like the Holiday Blanket Drive, CHOMP and Treasured Friends would not exist without caring individuals.

Melissa Carestia is the director of strategic community endeavors for Meals on Wheels Community Services of NEPA. Meals on Wheels provides nutrition and supportive services to residents of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Meals on Wheels of NEPA has been in existence since 1969, and to date, has served over 5 million meals.