In the U.S., one in six people 60 and older worry about having enough to eat. In Evanston, several organizations, federal programs and food banks address elder hunger including Meals on Wheels Northeastern Illinois, 1723 Simpson St., which has been in Evanston since 1968. 

The cooking crew for Meals on Wheels Northeastern Illinois. Credit: Wendi Kromash

“Our delivery area covers Evanston to Wisconsin and the western edge of Lake County,” said executive director Deborah Morganfield. “We also supply meals to the American Red Cross during local disasters.”

In this area, 25,000 seniors are considered “food insecure,” she said. 

In 2020 Meals on Wheels Northeastern Illinois opened a new kitchen and distribution facility at the Simpson Street location. The planned capacity for the kitchen was to cook and prepare 8,000 meals monthly. Today the number being prepared each month exceeds 9,100 meals. 

The organization’s flexibility was tested in January when another catering company in Chicago, one that also provides meals to 300 seniors, burned to the ground. Four days later those 300 senior clients were receiving freshly prepared meals from Meals on Wheels Northeastern Illinois, an arrangement that will continue indefinitely. 

Meals on Wheels Northeastern Illinois Executive Director Deborah Morganfield holding a sample cold meal Credit: Wendi Kromash

With the emergency meals added, Meals on Wheels Northeastern Illinois is on track to serve more than 200,000 meals in 2023.

With such a growing need, Morganfield said the organization’s board is preparing to announce a Phase II campaign to fund a second building with more kitchens and office space. She said the organization also wants to reconfigure the current space but, she added, has no interest in leaving Evanston.

Morganfield gave the RoundTable a tour and explained what goes on behind the scenes.

Deliveries take place Monday through Saturday between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. At assigned times, carefully vetted volunteer drivers pick up the meals for their route. The meals are packed in padded bags with the route number affixed to the strap. Drivers get to know their senior clients and the seniors get to know their drivers. Friendships often develop. 

One driver the RoundTable spoke to, Mark Swislow, has been volunteering twice a week for about a year. 

Mark Swislow picking up the deliveries for his Meals on Wheels Northeastern Illinois route. Kate Julian, the bread packer, greeter and front desk volunteer is behind him. Credit: Wendi Kromash

Swislow, a retired pediatrician, said “I had the time and wanted to do something. I enjoy meeting new people.” His route takes him to seven or eight homes. Some of the seniors on his route even chat with him when he’s off-duty, which he doesn’t mind. 

Many of the clients live alone and a surprising number don’t have any close friends or family living nearby.

Morganfield said, “Our services are for everyone. Clients who are able pay $8 per meal, although many are on a reduced fee schedule.” 

What happens to deliveries if it’s too dangerous to drive? After a client enrolls, they are given shelf-stable emergency rations called “blizzard boxes” and told to save them in case a driver is unable to get there.

Each meal is customized. Clients with mild allergies and specific preferences, medical or otherwise, can usually be accommodated. For clients with pets, the organization will even deliver pet food once a week, if needed, courtesy of the Evanston Animal Shelter.

Meals on Wheels Northeastern Illinois also tries to bring delight as well as necessity with cupcakes for clients on their birthday. Credit: Wendi Kromash

Each delivery includes a freshly prepared hot meal and a cold meal. Fresh fruit, fresh bread courtesy of Kaufman’s Bagel and Delicatessen in Skokie, and beverages are also included. 

Clients pre-select from two hot options and two cold options each day among a four-week rotating schedule of meals. Morganfield said her team will be rolling out a third option featuring Latinx flavors within the next few months. 

The food is prepared fresh each day at the kitchen on Simpson Street using locally sourced ingredients and suppliers whenever possible. A dietician reviews the meals to make sure they are low-salt, low cholesterol and low-fat. Food Service Director Sam Landman uses herbs and spices to make the food tasty without having to rely on excessive salt or sugar for flavoring.

If the senior is not home, the driver calls them. If they can’t be reached, the driver calls the Meals on Wheels office and efforts are made to track down the client. Could they be at an appointment that they forgot conflicted with their meal delivery? Do they need a wellness check? Every delivery is done in person and documented via an app on the volunteer’s phone or tablet. 

Meals on Wheels Northeastern Illinois depends on hundreds of volunteers to keep its programs running, for more information use this link. For more information about other organizations that are resources for Evanstonians seeking food accessibility, use the city’s information page.  

Wendi Kromash

Wendi Kromash is curious about everything and will write about anything. She tends to focus on one-on-one interviews with community leaders, recaps and reviews of cultural events, feature stories about...

Leave a comment

The RoundTable will try to post comments within a few hours, but there may be a longer delay at times. Comments containing mean-spirited, libelous or ad hominem attacks will not be posted. Your full name and email is required. We do not post anonymous comments. Your e-mail will not be posted.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *