DANIELLE GEHR Ames Tribune
AMES (AP) – Harrold Rittgers, 91, was on the ground for 16 hours before a man eight years his senior came to his aid.
Harris Seidel, 99, was stopping by Rittgers ‘Ames to make his daily home meal delivery in August when he found Rittgers and called 911. Normally, Rittgers’ door is locked, Seidel said, but luckily he was able to leave it himself.
âHe was helpless – he really didn’t speak,â Seidel said. âI don’t know how long he was there. “
A month later, Seidel felt much better prepared when he found another Ames client who had fallen from her wheelchair. In 20 years of volunteering with the Story County chapter of the national organization Meals on Wheels, Seidel had not experienced anything like this with these incidents with customers. Now, within two months, he had provided emergency care to two residents of Ames.
Rittgers’ son Mark said he was grateful to spend Thanksgiving with his father.
âI think we’re just thankful that he’s getting better, physically, and being able to be with him – the whole family – was just a blessing in our minds,â Mark Rittgers told the Ames Tribune.
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Before Seidel sets off on his Meals on Wheels route, he methodically examines every bag of food – no customer will miss a meal on their watch.
At the wheel of a Toyota sedan, Seidel sets out to make his deliveries. A stack of cards is hidden in a door, and a note on the dashboard reminds her which customers have dietary restrictions.
His deliveries are really the only reason he’s getting behind the wheel, he said. But he does it five days a week.
On a recent Wednesday, he had 13 meals to deliver. He dropped off as many as 36 in one day, but quickly made it clear that the number is inaccurate as some deliveries involved three meals at one stop.
A father of five and a grandfather of two, Seidel has spent most of the past eight decades in Ames.
An avid reader, Seidel is currently devouring the story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. A former civil engineer, Seidel said he loves solving problems – although he doesn’t have a lot of opportunities these days, he said.
Almost a hundred years old, Seidel continues to drive for meals on wheels and has no intention of stopping. A decades-old client, her youngest, said Seidel climbs the stairs better than she does. But he said he had no secrets for longevity to share – he just has good genes.
âI really feel extremely blessed and lucky,â Seidel said.
Seidel doesn’t like to talk about himself, saying he’s not very talkative in general.
âYour story should be about meals on wheels,â he said, ânot about me. “
Here’s what you need to know about Meals on Wheels:
Launched in 1954 in Philadelphia, Meals on Wheels now delivers meals to 2.4 million people each year.
The Harris Chapter, which serves all of Story County, is run by Mary Greeley Medical Center and Heartland Senior Services. It’s powered by nearly 100 volunteers who deliver 195 to 260 meals a day, according to officials Mary Greeley. In Des Moines, WesleyLife Home Care operates a chapter that delivers 900 to 1,000 meals throughout Polk County and eastern Dallas County, said Shannon Draayer, director of health and wellness for WesleyLife.
According to research from Meals on Wheels, 47% of Iowa’s seniors live alone and 22% live below the poverty line. Of the state’s 743,000 elderly people, 10% are at risk of hunger. In Iowa, the program serves approximately 28,000 seniors per year, delivering 1.9 million meals.
As Seidel walks through Old Orchard Mobile Home Park on the south side of Ames for his first deliveries of the day, some of his customers are chatty. Others exchange a few words.
âIt’s the most I’ve ever heard him say,â Seidel said after a customer thanked him.
For client JuliAnn Murphy, Seidel is always greeted by her dog, Skiff. Murphy says the deliveries remind her to eat, as she often forgets, and they help with portion control.
Seidel says his route gives him a purpose – during the first few months of the pandemic, he said he wanted to get back to his deliveries and the daily activity they brought. Fortunately, he was quickly “rehired”.
Meals on Wheels drivers not only deliver food, but also find other ways to help customers, like opening jars of pickles and reaching high shelves.
Mark Rittgers lives five hours away from his father and relied on Meals on Wheels to help take care of his father. Since his fall, Harold Rittgers has moved to a retirement home.
âI knew one of the perks was that they were watching you every day,â Mark Rittgers said. “Every day you will have at least one pair of eyes looking at it.”
Volunteers are encouraged to report any health concerns or changes in clients’ environment and, of course, to take action when they find a client in difficulty. This year, Seidel discovered how the program can save lives.
âI think that’s a lifeline, obviously,â said Mark Rittgers. âAt that time, my father was confined to the house, so to have a hot meal every day, someone takes care of him. “