Volunteers around the South Cariboo have been cooking up a storm to make sure that seniors in the community have access to healthy, inexpensive meals.
The long-running program, which provides home-cooked meals to seniors, has been growing over the past several years, according to Maggie Benzing, Interlakes Community Hall coordinator.
Hall volunteers took over the program from the Bridge Lake School Society in 2014 and the demand keeps increasing – from 500 to 600 meals a year in 2014 to more than 2000 in 2019. “This year it looks like we are hitting the 5,000 mark,” Benzing said.
Key to the program’s success has been finding a downtown 100 Mile House distributor for the frozen meals. As of last fall, they can now be purchased at the indoor Crafter’s Market on Birch Avenue, which is open Wednesday to Saturday.
Benzing said the meals – of which there are 35 varieties, with normally eight or nine in stock at a time – are available for $4 each to seniors or anyone recovering from illness who might benefit from easy access to healthy food.
“We cook everything from scratch, there is nothing pre-cooked in the meals,” Benzing said. “They are healthy, nutritious, low in sodium. And we can do gluten-free or dairy-free when people make that request.”
Meals are prepared in the commercial kitchen at Interlakes Community Hall by a handful of volunteers, usually split into two shifts. From 9 a.m. to noon, the first group prepares the food, while the packing crew arrives to divide and freeze the individual portions in the afternoon. Benzing noted that each meal costs $6.20 to prepare – including the microwave-safe packaging – and that a grant from the South Cariboo Health Foundation helps to offset the cost.
A brand new seniors’ meal program is also gaining traction at the Forest Grove Legion Branch 261, where frozen meals can be bought for $2 each with proof of age.
The program has been running for about two months and is slowly becoming more popular, said Legion coordinator Wendy Clarke.
“There’s no need to order the meals ahead of time, you can just show up on Wednesday, Friday or Saturday to buy them,” Clarke said, noting they have a limit of six per household.
Clarke said the meal program is something that Legion staff had been discussing prior to the pandemic, but with the closure of the seniors’ lunch program every Saturday due to COVID-19 restrictions this past year, now seemed like a good time to get it up and running.
“We got some funding from the New Horizons seniors’ program, and that’s what we’ve been using to cover most of the cost,” Clarke said. “Once that runs out, we will likely have to increase the cost, probably up to $4 each. We’re not looking at making money on it, we’re looking to provide a service that’s needed.”