More than just food

Meals on Wheels program is crucial to homebound seniors

timestamp icon
category icon Life
Meals on Wheels volunteer driver Marianne Reiter (left) does a final check before taking her delivery items from chef Valentina Diriyenko at the Washougal Meals on Wheels site Thursday, May 11.

Four year ago, Marianne Reiter was, in her words, “retired and bored.”

The grandmother and former bookkeeper heard through her volunteering work that the Washougal Meals on Wheels program was seeking drivers.

Reiter recruited a friend, Meg Gilbert, to deliver meals with her so the two longtime buddies could catch up while volunteering.

“We really enjoy meeting all of the people on our route, and since it is very local and not rural, we get to spend a little time with each of them,” Reiter says.

On a recent Thursday, Reiter completed several deliveries in Washougal, mostly to homebound seniors.

“Usually, everyone is very happy to see me,” she says. “There are several clients I have made a connection with and will bring them little Christmas gifts. During the last several years, they have had gifts for us as well.”

Reiter and Gilbert’s route varies sometimes, as clients drop in and out of the program due to medical conditions or schedule doctor’s appointments during meal drop-off times. Drivers are not allowed to leave food outside.

Meals on Wheels facts

Every city and county has a Meals on Wheels program, but they are not affiliated with one another and there is no national office or governing body. Each program is completely independent. Meals on Wheels People provides senior nutrition services for Multnomah, Washington and Clark counties.

Meals on Wheels People has been in the area since 1970 and has dozens of meal sites in Multnomah, Washington and Clark counties. With the help of 5,000 volunteers, the nonprofit organization now serves 5,700 meals daily and 1.3 million meals each year.

The Clark County program began in 2006. In 2016, the program delivered 137,458 meals to 2,332 older adults in Clark County, with 530 volunteers providing 23,803 hours of service.

For more information, visit, call Julie Piper Finley at 503-953-8136, or email her at

Whiskey, Wine and Swine

The Whiskey, Wine and Swine fundraiser for Meals on Wheels People in Washougal will take place on Friday, May 19, at Columbia Ridge Senior Living, 2300 W. 9th St., Washougal.

A hosted bar and silent auction begins at 6:30 p.m. and the dinner begins at 7:15 p.m. The menu features whiskey, wine, beer and a pork dinner, with two drink tickets included in the price of admission.

Tickets cost $50 per person and are available at or at the Washougal Center, 1681 “C” St., Washougal.

For more information, call Janice at 360-695-3847 or email or

Hot meals are delivered Monday through Thursday, with ready-to-heat options for the weekend, to help ensure that no senior goes hungry. If they’d rather get out of the house and have some companionship, seniors can opt to eat meals at the Washougal Community Center, which offers an onsite meal program Monday through Thursday.

Kay and Ann Prouty became involved with the program after connecting with former manager Wanda Nelson.

The couple travels to the Clark County Food Bank weekly to pick up bread and deliver it to the center. They also enjoy dining there with friends.

“Kay has never met someone who is a stranger,” says Ann. “Everyone is a friend to him.”

The Prouty family has lived in Washougal for 48 years.

“We really enjoy helping, and it’s a good way to donate to the center,” notes Kay.

Over the years, Reiter has befriended several of the seniors on her route. One of these is Alice McNett. During a recent meal drop-off, McNett and Reiter discuss a common passion of theirs: gardening.

“Where’s the other ‘M?'” jokes McNett, referring to Meg Gilbert.

“She’s still on her cruise, can you believe the nerve?” replies Reiter.

McNett, who used to be morbidly obese, is proud of having shed many of her 347 pounds, and laments that with current health issues, she is not allowed to go to the gym.

“My favorite part of having Marianne and Meg stop by is having the opportunity to visit and catch up,” McNett says. “They are always so friendly.”

Alice Olsen and her small rescue dog, “Hammy,” also look forward to the weekly visits.

“As soon as (Hammy) sees her, he jumps down from the window and runs to the door,” Olsen says, smiling.

She says that her favorite part of the meal delivery services is not having to shop for groceries or prepare food — something especially helpful to those who have limited mobility.

“It also gives me an opportunity to see my friends who bring the meals by,” Olsen says.

Adds Reiter, “We both love plants and have passed planting back and forth.”

While Reiter is out on the route, she collects paperwork for eligible seniors to receive coupons for the local farmer’s market nutrition program, which enables them to have access to free fresh fruits and vegetables.

“It’s a great program, but it is hard for some of them to get there, because of mobility issues,” Reiter notes.

Meals on Wheels has been changing lives in the Northwest, one meal at a time, since 1970, according to Julie Piper Finley, the regional organization’s marketing director.

“With the help of 5,000 volunteers, the nonprofit organization now serves 5,000 meals daily and 1.3 million each year,” she says. “We have never turned away a senior in need.”

The Washougal Community Center began serving meals onsite and through home delivery in 2006, when Meals on Wheels came to Clark County. Last year, the group served 137,458 meals countywide. The program, like many others across the country, receives 39 percent of its funding from the federal government. If President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget passes, the group’s federal funding could decrease substantially.

“We are anticipating significant cuts to our federal funding in the next year, but we are uncertain how much that will be,” Finley says.

To help offset potential reductions, Meals on Wheels is hosting a “Whiskey, Wine and Swine” event this Friday at Columbia Ridge Senior Living. It includes an entire roasted pig, wine wall, whiskey tastes and a silent auction.

“It’s a really fun event and all proceeds stay in Washougal,” Finley notes. “We encourage the community to come out and support it.”

Washougal Meals on Wheels chef Valentina Diriyenko prepares food for drivers to transport.
Washougal Meals on Wheels chef Valentina Diriyenko prepares food for drivers to transport. Photo