"Wheels for Meals" might look like a typo, but it is actually the name of an upcoming fundraiser for Alameda County Meals on Wheels programs. On October 22, as many as 800 riders will gather at Shadow Cliffs Regional Park to cycle through the Livermore Valley along one of three pre-planned routes. Modest registration fees and pledges from supporters promise to earn roughly $90,000 for the organization, which has been delivering nutritious cooked food with a personal touch to homebound seniors for more than 40 years.
According to Alameda County Meals on Wheels Executive Director Cindy Houts, the 15-mile Family Fun Ride is "a flat ramble through vineyards and neighborhoods." The 35-mile course is a "lovely loop through vineyards and rolling ranch land," while the 70-mile ride challenges experienced riders with its "climbing and fast descents."
Houts came up with the idea for the event after she and her husband completed a seven-day AIDS ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles five years ago. The "tremendous experience" inspired her to bring the same type of enjoyment and gratification to her local constituency, in a condensed version. "We wanted to create an event that offered something for everyone, and that was so much fun people can't wait to come back year after year," she comments.
The first Wheels for Meals Ride debuted in 2009 and has been growing ever since. Additions this year include a post-ride barbeque with a live band, Sunshine Susan's Solar Ice Cream Parlor (also on wheels), and a multitude of community booths. The activities are supported by a large population of volunteers, working on everything from safety, communications, and rest stops to registration, lunch, and clean up.
On any given day in Alameda County, six Meals on Wheels programs deliver food to more than 2,000 seniors, for a total of 630,000 meals per year. Most programs provide their services from Monday through Friday, when drivers also drop off a bag lunch for Saturday and a frozen meal for Sunday.
"The program is really cost effective," Houts says. Emphasizing the connection between good nutrition and health, she observes, "We can feed a senior for an entire year for the same cost as one day in the hospital."
The other benefit is the interaction between the drivers and meal recipients. "This is often the only human contact seniors have during the entire day. The drivers check in on the seniors' well-being and are often a lifeline. The program allows seniors who are no longer able to shop and cook to stay in their homes, where they want to be."
While Meals on Wheels does receive some government funding, levels have been stagnant for over 20 years, and food and delivery costs have only been rising, Houts points out. About half of the $6-per-meal cost has to be raised locally, so "more fundraising has to happen to fill the gap," she says.
Registration for the Wheels for Meals Ride is open until noon on October 21. Cheerleaders are welcome to support riders along their routes. For more information, visit www.wheelsformealsride.com .
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