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Thursday, March 31, 2011 03:01 pm

Delivering meals and smiles weekly, for 28 years

Daily Bread program provides a personal contact to homebound seniors

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Mary Link

On Thanksgiving more than 30 years ago, Mary Link met a man who changed the way she thought about other people’s lives. Mary and her husband, Al, had finished serving hot Thanksgiving meals to the community of people who stopped by Kumler Ministries that day. Feeling that she had done her part to help others, Mary was ready to get back to her own family. However, Kumler Ministries workers identified a group of people who still needed meals delivered to their homes.

Al and Mary agreed to help. They knocked on the door of a home near the 10th Street rail corridor. An older man wearing bib overalls and a railroad-style cap opened the door. Surprised to see the couple standing there, he said, “I never expected to see anyone today.”

Mary now says that she could never have imagined before that moment that people were sitting alone in their homes on Thanksgiving Day. She vowed to do all that she could do to make sure that people who could not leave their homes still had access to a hot meal and a friendly face saying “Hello.”

Before long, Mary began to encourage her congregation at the First Church of the Brethren in Springfield to get involved in serving holiday meals to people who were homebound. That program now delivers just over 190 hot meals on Thanksgiving Day and approximately 180 meals on Christmas Day.      

When Mary’s husband, Al, was able to retire, they volunteered to deliver meals one day a week for Daily Bread, a nutrition program that delivers hot meals to homebound seniors Monday through Friday each week. The program prepares nearly 500 meals a day. Of that number between 400 and 450 are delivered to homebound seniors in Sangamon and Menard Counties.

That was nearly 28 years ago. The Links continued to drive their route together until Al passed away in December last year. Following Al’s death, Mary told others that she hoped she could keep delivering meals. One of Al’s former co-workers, Dave Hartman, offered to help. Now Dave drives the route while Mary works in the back seat to combine the beverage, hot and cold portions of the meals into a delivery bag.  

Mary says that she is glad that she is still in good health and able to continue delivering meals. She says, “I’d really miss it if I had to stop.” Beyond that, Mary would much rather talk about the importance of the Daily Bread program and about the people along her route – a woman who was depressed until a cat came into her life, a man who lived in isolation until he moved into a high-rise and started making friends, and the many other people who are homebound because of medical conditions that limit their ability to shop and cook for themselves.

Although the Daily Bread program was designed to provide meals on a short-term basis to homebound seniors, it has become one of many community services that help delay nursing home admission for people whose medical conditions can be managed in the home. One meal recipient, Barbara, explains that her Daily Bread meal helps her manage her diabetes by helping her control her caloric intake and avoid unhealthy snacking. Without this assistance, Barbara could suffer complications from diabetes that would make it harder for her to stay in the community.

While the Daily Bread program has not yet been notified of any cuts to their budget, program director Amy Smith admits that budget cuts could affect the program’s ability to continue to deliver meals to remote parts of the service area.

To learn more about volunteering for Daily Bread, call Senior Services at 217-528-4035.

Grace Sweatt is a long-term care ombudsman and freelance writer. Contact her at gnight_gracie@yahoo.com.

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