From the left, Mary Anne Diehl, board president; Ana Tolentino, program coordinator; Debi Genthe, executive director; and Heather Harker, volunteer coordinator oversee the non-profit organization Meals at Home, whose 250 volunteers deliver more than 32,000 meals a year to 200 clients in Evanston and nearby suburbs.

Ms. Moore is waiting at her door, a smile lighting up her face. Having given her okay for a reporter to accompany volunteer Mary Anne Diehl on today’s delivery, Ms. Moore is eager to tell them both that she finds the food from Meals at Home “delightful.” In a few minutes, she says, she will be taking one of the day’s two meals to eat on the Pace bus she rides to work in Hyde Park. The other will be tonight’s dinner.

 Ms. Moore, who has been a MaH client for 10 years, says she receives two meals a day, Monday through Friday. As a 19-year resident of a building owned by Housing Options, she is also sustained by this Evanston non-profit, which provides supportive, integrative housing in the community for people who suffer from a mental illness.

Ms. Diehl is the current Meals at Home board president as well as one of the 250 volunteer drivers who help make it possible for Ms. Moore and the nearly 200 other clients MaH serves in a year to live independently.

MaH asks that its volunteers devote only a couple of midday hours a month to delivering nutritious meals and medically prescribed diets to Evanston and New Trier Township residents who require mealtime support of various kinds.

Some MaH clients have physical or mental disabilities and need help with regular meal preparation; some need short-term help after hospitalization or illness; others have limited cooking facilities or need help (subsidies) paying for their meals.

Freshly prepared and fully cooked, the meals provide at least two-thirds of an adult’s recommended dietary needs. This is no small matter, given that nearly 50% of U.S. elderly are malnourished or suffer from poor nutrition.

Meals are made available regardless of age or income. The regular cost is $8.70 for two meals, but based on their income, 60% of MaH clients qualify for reduced fees. Some pay as little as $1.10 per delivery.

Volunteers deliver meals between 11a.m. and 1p.m., six days a week, 52 weeks a year, including holidays. Their driving routes comprise 12 or 13 meal recipients, the number varying slightly when people go out of town.

Mail carriers have been ennobled by the words of Herodotus: “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these courageous couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

But they have nothing on MaH drivers.  

Despite another punishing winter, Ms. Diehl says, “We didn’t miss one delivery this year.” Last year, she says, MaH forestalled a lapse in service by delivering double meals in advance of an expected storm.

Most days, volunteers pick up meals at Presence St. Francis or Evanston Hospital or Three Crowns Park. Experienced chefs devise delicious and nutritious meals for the general MaH clientele and particular foods for those on diabetic, salt- or gluten-free renal or chopped diets.

But this Thursday is a bonus day. The seven people on Ms. Diehl’s route today have won the lottery. Their prize: a meal from Jilly’s, an upscale North Evanston restaurant known for cuisine that owner Nicolae Marian calls “American French.” In fact, Ms. Diehl says, everyone who signed up was a winner. The number of requests for Jilly’s matched the number of reduced-cost meals Mr. Marian has offered to provide.

Still enthusiastic after seven years of collaborating with MaH, Mr. Marian helps Ms. Diehl load the bags of food into her car. They are marked with recipients’ names and their choice from among a half-dozen items on the restaurant menu. The North Shore Roll-up and Mediterranean Tuna Salad are MaH favorites, Mr. Marian says. They are accompanied by nut bread or another side dish, Ms. Diehl says, and make a “very nice meal.”

MaH clients without dietary restrictions also have the option to order soup and sandwiches from Capt’n Nemo’s on winter Tuesdays and to treat themselves to a meal from Curt’s Café on Wednesdays.

Ms. Diehl drives her usual route on Monday. She and other board members fill in on lotto Thursdays, when deliveries are scattered rather than concentrated in one area of town. Still, she knows most of the people on today’s list and is familiar with parking and entrance routines for each building.

Despite some discomfort after yesterday’s minor surgery, Linda Dixon comes to the door of her apartment in Ebenezer-Primm Towers and welcomes Ms. Diehl like an old friend. Don, her 81-year-old husband, waves a cheerful hello from his lounge chair.

Since they started getting five deliveries a week from MaH a year ago, Ms. Dixon says, “I don’t even cook.” Except breakfast, she adds. But today she plans “to save the [North Shore] Wrap for breakfast – heat it up.”

In addition to MaH, the Dixons say they call on other community resources: Senior Connections, the Council on Jewish Elderly and their church. When Ms. Diehl comments that they look good, Ms. Dixon passes along their prescription: “We don’t smoke, drink, or eat a lot. We plan to keep it up.”

When clients are not home at delivery time, MaH drivers have specific instructions about where to leave their meals. The 600-700 insulated bags purchased at a bargain price last year and distributed to drivers and clients help keep food safe in summer heat.

MaH, founded in 1968, broadened its services in 2002 with Friendly Visit and Grocery Shopping programs. Two years ago the organization took the big step of renting – then expanding – an office at 1123 Emerson St. While the jobs of bookkeeper Rita Weinberg and grant writer Sylvia Peters are conducive to working at home, Executive Director Debi Genthe and part-time staff members Heather Harker, volunteer coordinator, and Ana Tolentino, program coordinator, profit from the synergy that results from proximity.

The Meals at Home spring benefit to be held May 16 at the Sheridan Shores Yacht Club in Wilmette will raise funds to recruit volunteers and serve the ever-increasing number of aging and disabled individuals in need of healthy, affordable meals.

In the end, MaH saves money for the healthcare system. Maintaining an individual at home costs family and community about half as much as housing that person in an institutional setting. A year’s worth of home-delivered meals is approximately equal to the cost of one day in the hospital – to say nothing of the dignity and pride they preserve.

For more information contact: 847-332-2678 or