ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Eighty-nine years old and largely housebound, Eva Smith treasures any visitors she gets — but in particular, the volunteers who bring her food a few times a week.

The Annapolis resident has come to depend on Meals on Wheels, a nonprofit organization that provides nutritious meals for people who are unable to provide food for themselves. She is one of 222 clients in the area, a figure that is increasing in the county and region as the economy leaves more in a financial pinch.

Many of the clients are senior citizens: The county has about 62,000 county residents 65 years and older, and about 26,000 residents live below the poverty level, according to the U.S. Census.

“It means a whole lot to me,” said Smith, who suffered a stroke last year. “I don’t know what I would do (without them). I’d probably be eating sandwiches, or eating nothing.”

Since October, the Anne Arundel County branch has seen a 10 percent increase in the number of people needing meals. Ordinarily, it gets greater numbers during the holidays but they drop off after the new year, said Terry Lehr, the county’s program supervisor.

The county branch is in the organization’s central region — an area that also includes Baltimore City and Baltimore, Harford, Carroll and Howard counties — which is experiencing overall growth. The group anticipated reaching 3,000 daily clients in the region by 2020, but now expects to reach that by 2013. If the numbers keep rising, Lehr expects to have 450 to 500 clients in Anne Arundel by that time.

“There’s been an increase in requests and overall need for our services,” Lehr said. “With the baby boomers coming aboard, there’s going to be a higher percentage of clients that might need our services.”

To cope with the changes, the regional offices are trying to reduce energy consumption at their buildings so savings can be diverted toward increasing food deliveries. State lawmakers are reviewing a green building bill that would give the organization up to $150,000, providing for roof replacement, lighting and a new hot water tank.

The meal program is open to anyone unable to prepare food for himself or herself because of physical, mental or financial difficulties. Last year, the county branch served 384 clients and their average age was 78. During March 2010, there were 187 clients being served; there has been an increase of just under 20 percent to the current total.

Anyone who requires Meals on Wheels services must fill out an application noting dietary needs and income level. Clients must sign up for delivery at least three days a week, and they are given menus at least two weeks in advance.

For the Anne Arundel County branch, the food is prepared in Baltimore and sent to Woods Memorial Church in Severna Park and St. Martin’s Lutheran Church in Annapolis. At the churches, volunteers prepare food bags and load them into their cars for delivery.

Twice a week, Sam and Hazel Liff head to St. Martin’s and load their car with packages of hot food. Their routes usually take about an hour, depending on how many clients they have on a given day. Smith is a regular client of theirs and said she looks forward to their visits.

“It keeps you active when you deliver to nice people like this,” Sam Liff said. “They say ‘thank you’ and you feel good.”

Information from: The Capital of Annapolis, Md.,
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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