A Life of Public Service Includes Coordinating Frederick County’s Meals on Wheels

IMG_20150810_115239428_HDRMary Feaster is not coasting to retirement in a job with well-established hours and routines.

She knew when she became the Outreach Coordinator of the Frederick County Department of Aging Meals on Wheels program that it was not going to be an easy transition into retirement. She worked four years with physically and mentally challenged youth for the Frederick County Office for Children and Families.  Seven years ago when she accepted the Meals on Wheels Outreach Coordinator position.  She had already spent 22 years as Director of Environmental Services at Carroll Hospital Center, and was the Telerecruiting Supervisor of the Chesapeake/Potomac Blood Services Region for the American Red Cross and in other public service positions.

And yet, she still chose another demanding job, choosing this time to help keep vulnerable senior and disabled residents in their homes.  As the Outreach Coordinator for Frederick County Meals on Wheels program, she processes the initial applications from clients, nursing home discharge coordinators, Department of Social Services, hospitals, to name a few, which includes conducting telephone interviews, develops the food delivery routes, oversees the volunteers delivering food and fields the many requests from clients who often have very little family support and need help from others.

She now handles up to five applications a day and expanding existing delivery routes and developing new ones is a constant challenge.  A new Middletown/Myersville route has already been expanded into two routes because of growing food assistance needs and existing delivery routes, which used to encompass 10 to 15 miles, now involve 40 to 50 miles of driving and more deliveries.

“Map Quest used to be my best friend,” said Feaster.  “Now, I use Google maps.  We’re expanding because we want [vulnerable and disabled] people to be able to remain in their homes, while aging in place, and with dignity.  People who are no longer able to shop and drive should not have to live in assisted living.”

Because of the mental and physical challenges of some clients, the Meals on Wheels operation involves much more than just food delivery.  And Feaster and her colleague Steve Stoyke, a licensed practical nurse, do the best they can to help address other pressing needs.

Feaster said she is “the lifeline for [food delivery] volunteers” if they find program recipients in distress or not at home.  “Our purpose is delivering the food,” she said.  “But it has grown into so much more.  Our volunteers are the eyes and ears as to what’s happening with the clients, in real time.”

Upon receiving a notification from the volunteer of an emergency, Feaster immediately contacts the designated family members about client emergencies and volunteers call 911.  The task becomes a more formidable challenge if there is not much family support.  “The best kept secret in the community is seniors in their homes with no support,” she noted.

Stoyke and Feaster and their AmeriCorps volunteer, Jessica Paguirigan, sometimes have to arrange for extra food on Thursdays and Fridays so there’s enough in the refrigerator for the weekend and on other occasions, they make sure hungry pets get the food they need.  They also have a supply of walkers, canes, toilet chairs and other donated medical equipment on hand for physically disabled recipients who need them.  Stoyke, as a licensed practical nurse, helps clients learn ways to avoid self-neglect and how to maintain healthy lifestyles.

On occasion, Meals on Wheels clients will visit or call the Department of Aging to ask for emergency food for the weekend or medical assistance on a Friday afternoon as offices are closing.  Those are the days when Feaster, Stoyke and Paguirigan know they will be working late.  They open the department’s pantry to provide what food is available or do what they can to help arrange medical assistance.

“Many of our elderly clients are proud people, having worked their entire life and built the communities they live in” said Feaster.  “They would do anything to avoid asking for help.  Some wait until the midnight hour.”

On days when the weather is bad and volunteers have been told to stay home, Feaster asks colleagues to help her call all of the clients.  “We’ll ask them, ‘Do you have food? Do you have power in your homes?'” she said.  “If we know they’ve got good family support, we direct them to contact the family.  If they don’t have support, we’re going to get food out to them.  We’ll send out peanut butter and jelly until the power comes back on [if necessary].”

Feaster and Stoyke understand there’s only so much they can do.  And part of their job then becomes educating clients about the right people to call in emergencies.  “Steve [Stoyke] does not replace their family doctor,” Feaster stressed.  “And you don’t call Meals on Wheels if there is no power.  You call the power company.”

There are nights when she does not sleep well because she wanted to do more.  But the next morning, she goes back to work confident “that we’re doing the best we can with limited resources,” she said.

She noted that lives have been saved by the efforts of the Meals on Wheels team that provides minimal companionship and a link to the community have been extended to the program’s often isolated homebound clientele, which increasingly includes middle-aged disabled residents.

Feaster is especially proud of her volunteers.

“They volunteer their time and their car to deliver food — there is no gasoline reimbursement,” she said.  “They do this out of the kindness of their hearts and to give back to their community.  I am honored to be a part of the Meals on Wheels Team.”

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