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January 13, 1995

Picture yourself at an advanced stage of life, existing on social security or welfare, living in a drafty house in the most modest circumstances, in poor health, unable to drive a car, with no family or close friends to check on you. Sounds pretty bleak, right? Friends, there are people right here in our own community to whom that is a dismal reality.

Jeanie Votaw, outreach worker at the local Wheatheart Nutrition Center, has made me aware of a problem which most of us probably did not know existed. Let me share some of her concerns with you.

In neighborhoods scattered throughout this little city are senior citizens who spend days and nights in dark rooms because they are unable to change a light bulb. Some of them go for weeks without hearing the sound of a human voice because no one comes to see them, even to say "hello."

Others cannot meet appointments with their doctors because they cannot drive a car, even if they could afford to own one. They have to rely on others for any kind of transportation; our city has no taxies or other public conveyances

Mrs. Votaw is acutely aware of these situations through her work with the Wheatheart Center. That is where hot meals are prepared for distribution around town to folks who request them. I had a column the other day telling about local churches pitching in during the recent holidays to help out in this regard, and that has led to the discovery of these other matters which really should concern all of us.

One of the most pressing needs right now is volunteers to deliver the hot meals on weekdays. The Wheatheart Center has no drivers but does have a fine new van for use in the distribution. Volunteers do the work now but there are only three of them and on some days it is hard for them to be available. Two of them drive during their own lunch hour from their place of employment.

But beyond that, Jeanie says there is a crying need for volunteers just to make friendly house calls from time to time. Changing light bulbs, furnishing a ride to the doctor's office, and numerous other things.

She would like to see a group of concerned Perryans step forward to work in such a program. Someone would be needed to serve as a coordinator, matching up the volunteers with those needing their assistance. This is beyond the scope of the program in which Jeanie functions, but the Wheatheart van could be used. "They have told us to make it available for things other than delivery of meals," she says.

The name of the food service program has been changed locally from "Meals on Wheels" to "Wheatheart Home Delivery," and because of that the rules are less strict than they were. Formerly a flat $2.50 fee was charged for each meal. Now a contribution of $1.25 is asked and arrangements can be made if that is a hardship. Who knows how many of our senior citizens have been spared illnesses due to malnutrition because of this program?

But apart from the basic human need for sustenance through nourishing meals there is also a tragic shortage of old-fashioned neighborliness extending to those who don't necessarily live next door to us. There is an opportunity here for some organization or group of individuals to become a significant force for good. If you are so inclined, contact Jeanie Votaw at the Wheatheart Center, telephone 336-3467, before 1 p.m; or at her home, 336-3050, after hours. Give the idea some serious thought, and all of us will be richer for the experience.