The Ponca City Meals on Wheels program has been around for over 40 years in the community. Because of the recent pandemic and COVID-19 restrictions, the program was struggling to continue offering meals to those in need.
Lana Jones, chairman of the Ponca City Meals on Wheels program, said the community desperately needed the program but wasn’t sure what steps to take to make that happen. Jones said she did some thinking and decided to reach out to the Ponca City Public School’s Child Nutrition Department.
Jeff Denton, Director of Child Nutrition Services for Ponca City Public Schools, agreed to help and now cooks meals for at least 50 residents of the community in the kitchen at Ponca City High School.
Right now Denton cooks the meals alone but has plenty of help getting the food into the boxes and ready to be picked up.
“I really wanted to help the community and felt I had no choice,” said Denton. “When school starts next month it will probably be a little more challenging getting things ready, but we will also have more staff available to help.”
The meal takes about an hour to prepare and doesn’t cost the school district any money. “This is handled as a catering-type job so it isn’t handled through the school’s child nutrition account.”
The menu options vary from day-to-day. The meal being prepared on Thursday included pork roast with gravy, cornbread stuffing, fresh tossed salad with dressing and a peach crisp. Those on diabetic restrictions were given a sugar-free dessert.
The Meals on Wheels program was created to help the elderly and seniors, no matter their income. Top priority is given to the homebound, which generally will be seniors who are unable to get food on their own and who can’t prepare their own meals.
Through the program, a volunteer will deliver a free or low-cost meal directly to the homebound senior citizen’s door. All food and ingredients are prepared fresh daily. “A lot of seniors in our community don’t have family to help them out,” said Jones. “If not for the graciousness of some of my drivers, they wouldn’t have anything.”
Jones said the Meals on Wheels program prefers seniors ages 65 and over. “We will also take people that have been injured or are disabled and need a little help.”
The meals are prepared at Ponca City High School and then transported by Cimarron Transit to delivery drivers at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. “This has really become a community partnership, and we are so very thankful for that,” said Jones. “Ponca City Public Schools has truly been a lifesaver for our program.”
Laura Corff, Transit Director for the Cimarron Public Transit System, said the organization was happy to help out. “We work with a variety of organizations and are always looking for partnerships to improve and help out in the community,” she said. “When Lana reached out and asked if we’d be interested in transporting the meals, I couldn’t say no.”
“Moving meals isn’t something Cimarron Transit would normally assist with but because of the pandemic so many people were struggling and in need of help,” she said. “The FTA recognized the fact that needs would change because many Senior Centers closed and people were quarantined and food needed to be delivered. At least through the end of next January, we have been approved to pick up and drop off meals to ease their burden.”
The food is placed on the serving line and then dished into to-go styrofoam containers. “They are then boxed up in warming bags and taken to the curb for Cimarron Transit to pick up,” said Denton.
Meals are served five days a week around noon. The charge is $3.50 per meal.
Jones said there’s currently around 40 volunteer drivers that serve the Meals on Wheels program. “We are currently running five routes with 10 meals on each route so we are serving around 50 people right now,” said Jones. “We could serve up to 80 a day.”
To get additional information, volunteer to be a sub driver or to be included on the Meals on Wheels list, contact Jones at 580-767-9010.
Employees pictured below include Jeff Denton, Kyce Goodno, Cheryl Sitterly and Linda Turner.