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Fresh produce adding spice to seniors' lunches

Published July 1, 2014 6:51 am

The MealsPlus program is a first, and it needs more volunteers, organizers say.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Cottonwood Heights • Caroline Poulsen loved the cherries she received in her lunch delivery from Meals on Wheels. She can't wait for fresh tomatoes.

"There's nothing like green tomatoes out of the garden," said the homebound Poulsen, a widow since her husband, Ernest, died in mid-November.

As soon as tomatoes begin ripening, Poulsen will be able to savor their juicy delicacy through a Meals on Wheels program, MealsPlus, that supplements lunches with fresh vegetables and fruits.

The produce comes from several sources in this cooperative effort led by the Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services Division.

Some of it was grown in garden plots that Utah State University Extension Service is overseeing at Wheeler Park in Murray and at the Salt Lake County jail. Two private growers, Bell Organics and Green Urban Lunch Box, also are pitching in foodstuffs.

Volunteers in the county Division of Youth Services' Milestone program then collect the produce from the fields and prepare the brown-paper-bag packages that contain the MealsPlus treats.

"It's real food, the kind that grows," said Midge King, another MealsPlus recipient. "Now I have salad every day."

The county currently has resources to provide 130 seniors with MealsPlus packages, said County Mayor Ben McAdams. "To expand, we need more support," he added, encouraging anyone interested to donate time or money to contact program manager Jeremy Hart, jhart@slco.org.

McAdams praised Aging Services officials for "stepping up the game … to help the seniors who built our community into what it is today. It's right to support them now."

King had been a secretary to doctors and attorneys before a variety of maladies — multiple sclerosis, diabetes, malfunctioning kidney and arthritis — left her homebound. Her body was deteriorating steadily, she said, until MealsPlus started augmenting her diet a few weeks ago.

"I got a big bag of greens, radishes, spinach and kale," King said. "I was able to juice it up and drink it. Now I'm strong enough that I can do a lot more than I could two weeks ago. My doctor wants to get his other patients doing it, too."

Making an older person's life better brings joy to Youth Services volunteer Kyaw Htay, a 16-year-old Olympus High School student who spent five years in a refugee camp.

"I like helping people," he said, "like being a Boy Scout."

USU horticulturist Katie Wagner said the Wheeler Park gardens have 50 kinds of vegetables, including 15 varieties of tomatoes. Nearly 300 hours have been dedicated to their cultivation, she added, calling it time well spent for the benefits provided.

The effort is much appreciated, said recipient Poulsen.

"It's no fun to get old," she said, "but when you get old, you get a lot of help."

mikeg@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sltribmikeg —

Want to help out?

People interested in donating money or volunteering to help the MealsPlus program can contact Jeremy Hart at the county Division of Aging and Adult Services, jhart@slco.org or 385-468-3258.