With a light knock on the front door, Greg Palacio entered Lorraine Asten’s home carrying the day’s meal — fried chicken, broccoli, fruit salad and an apple.
“Hey, Lorraine,” he said as he rounded the corner to the living room to find Asten reclined in front of the television.
She has relied on the Meals on Wheels program for the last two years to get a hot meal.
Asten is one of about 330 Henderson residents who rely not only on the food from the program but also on the company its delivery provides each day.
“If I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t eat,” Asten said. “I’ve also grown fond of seeing (Greg), too.”
The city of Henderson’s Meals on Wheels program is open to Henderson residents who are 60 or older and have a physical condition that prohibits them from preparing their own meals or attending at a congregate meal site. The city serves lunch to people 60 or older for a suggested donation of $2.50 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. throughout the week at the Heritage Park Senior Facility, 300 Racetrack Road.
Kim Becker, a spokeswoman with the city of Henderson, said while the program serves people with financial needs, it also provides another much-needed service.
“For some of the people, this is their only interaction,” she said.
Becker added that there have been times when seniors have had medical issues, and if it wouldn’t have been for staff members delivering meals, they would have gone unnoticed.
As the city contends with budget issues, organizers of the Meals on Wheels program are trying to identify creative ways to provide the service as they cut back on expenses.
Currently, paid city employees distribute hot meals five days a week — seniors are also given two frozen meals to get them through the weekend.
One option that has been discussed was going to a one-day-a-week delivery, but that would shut down the opportunity for some residents to have daily interactions with other people.
Becker said the city is looking at developing a volunteer base for deliveries in the next six months. But developing a volunteer base would take considerable commitment.
“This isn’t something you can just do once or twice and then you’re done,” Becker added.
In the meantime, the city continues its daily task of preparing meals and shipping them out.
On a Thursday morning, an assembly line of salads takes over one counter inside the kitchen at the Heritage Park Senior Facility. Preparation for Meals on Wheels started the day before.
“Things like salads you can make ahead of time,” said Anita Gant, senior services supervisor for the city of Henderson.
Salad after salad, workers scoop mandarin oranges and croutons onto the lettuce preparing for one of Friday’s options — an Asian chicken salad.
When they have special meals, such as spare ribs, it might take an extra day to make the meals, Gant said.
Palacio, who took over his current route four months ago, said the staff has done a great job stretching the budget to make sure people have quality meals.
Meals are delivered daily along six routes.
Palacio, on the third route, begins his shift of serving 55 people just before 8 a.m. and finishes before 1 p.m.
Taking him throughout downtown Henderson, it took him two weeks to memorize the routine.
“All the drivers have GPS in case,” Becker said.
Palacio goes through the routine: Park in front of the house, pull out the prepared meal, drop it off and continue on.
Often he’ll stick around to chat with the people, brightening up their day.
On occasion, he will help with a task or two such as bringing in the newspaper from the driveway, changing a light bulb or fixing a hummingbird feeder.
Patricia Tempel lies in a bed in her living room with her cat guardian — he is one of five that periodically come to nestle next to her — as Palacio enters the house.
“It’s nice to have the company,” she said. “Hardly anyone comes this way.”
Though her cats keep her company and her husband is there when he finishes work, Tempel would be devoid of human interaction throughout the day if it weren’t for the program.
“(Palacio) gives me at least five minutes of his time,” she said. “If I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t talk to anyone.”
Through his times dropping off meals, Palacio has developed meaningful friendships with the residents.
Before Palacio walked out the door, he asked Tempel one more question.
“For tomorrow’s meal, do you want the Asian chicken salad or pulled pork?” he said.
“Salad, please,” she said, smiling back at her friend.
For more information on the program, visit tinyurl.com/hendofood
Contact Henderson View reporter Michael Lyle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5201.