It was 8 a.m. and the meals were stacked up in trays, wrapped in plastic and waiting for Percy Neely’s wheels.
Neely grabbed a list, piled the 26 meals into his van and was off to deliver nutrition to Selma’s senior citizens.
Neely isn’t a Selma native, but he knows the sprawling town and every day he can be found at the First Presbyterian Church on Broad Street. The church runs the Broad Street Nutrition Center. Director John Christian, affectionately called “TJ”, created Selma’s version of Meals on Wheels to provide one balanced meal a day to the elderly and disabled members of the community. Recipients have to be at least 60 years old. Registration requires a one-time fee of $1.25.
Neely is a delivery driver for Meals on Wheels and on April 29, he had more than 20 houses on a delivery route that wound through the residential streets of Selma. The first stop was at a blue and red house owned by an elderly woman named, Ms. Webb. Her granddaughter answered the door while Webb stayed in bed.
“Sometimes the door doesn’t get answered,” Neely said, “Sometimes there will be a note on the door that says ‘leave it outside.’”
For most recipients today’s package was a mid-day meal, a platter of steak, mashed potatoes and green peas. For those who are truly housebound, the Meals on Wheels driver is a crucial link to the outside world.
“We’re kind of like a lifeline if they can’t afford a telephone,” Christian said. “Some of these folks don’t have a cell phone. So, the people who deliver become their eyes and ears.”
Back at the church, employees prepared for the lunch crowd of seniors who were mobile enough to get there. Lunch is served between 10 a.m. and noon. The healthy meal is cooked with very little salt and few preservatives. According to Christian, the food contains vitamins, minerals and nutrients, all the things that needy seniors need.
But there aren’t enough meals for the seniors who need them.
“The problem that we’re having here is funding,” Christian said.
While the $60,000 to $70,000 the program gets from the federal and state government covers half the annual cost of the program, local organizations have to match government spending.
More than half a century after the region was a center for the Civil Rights Movement’s voting rights and anti-poverty campaigns, there are still many poor and malnourished people in Selma and Dallas County. Today, 35 percent live below the poverty line in Dallas County, according to the U.S. Census. In Selma, that figure jumps to 42 percent.
Meals on Wheels helps make sure seniors, many of whom are poor, get a nutritious meal with the right number of calories.
“Obesity, you see it quite often,” Christian said, referring to older people who are well over the threshold of what nutritionists consider unhealthy when they measure body mass index (BMI).
Dallas County has one of the highest concentrations of obesity in Alabama, a state that is among the top seven in the nation, according to state health statistics.
To reverse that trend, local organizations are staging fitness events just for senior citizens around here. Such as Older Americans Day on May 27. At the Carl Morgan Convention Center in Selma there will be fitness contests for which prizes will be awarded.
There are black seniors in Selma who are trying to push the idea of healthier living but its an uphill battle.
“Well, I have sisters who I’m trying to sell on the idea of fruits and vegetables and very little meat if at all possible,” said Sidney Fitts, 70, during a recent garden party in Selma. “It’s a struggle trying to get them on board. They’re beginning to take hold of the idea. They see the results of good eating, healthy living, no smoking and no drinking.”
Article by Ahjahnae LaQuer, video by Erin Irwin