Sheboygan County Meals on Wheels on the move

by Jeff Pederson of The Review staff

With the recent opening of a brand new state-of-the-art office complex and food production facility in Sheboygan, Meals On Wheels of Sheboygan County is raising the bar for community-based, homedelivered food service programs to a previously unchartered level.

After countless hours of planning, fundraising, construction and good old-fashioned hard work and dedication over the past two years, Meals On Wheels of Sheboygan County has arrived on the cutting edge of providing daily fresh food service to those in need.

The new facility, located at 1004 South Taylor Drive in Sheboygan, is the culmination of a long-range vision plan initiated by the Meals on Wheels of Sheboygan County Board of Directors 2½ years ago.

“We have a very active board and any everyone on the board has done an outstanding job putting all of this together,” Meals on Wheels of Sheboygan County Communications Director Paula Kletzien said. “In May 2010, the board developed a vision plan to reflect what it felt our organization should look like in 2015.

“This is the product of that session,” she said. “We are way ahead of schedule on this, which is testament to the will of all of the people involved in this project.”

After offering meals through an outside catering service since its inception in 1970, Meals on Wheels of Sheboygan County rolled off its first batch of freshly prepared meals on Monday, Nov. 26.

“We had always purchased our food from a caterer,” Kletzien said. “We’ve partnered with Watson’s Vending Service since 1998. It was really a great partnership for many, many years and we appreciate all that Watson’s did for our program.

“It had come to a point where we had started to outgrow that type of preparation and delivery structure,” she said. “We are absolutely thrilled to have our own kitchen and to be able to launch our own fresh food preparation and delivery program.”

Kletzien said the new commercial grade kitchen boasts every amenity and feature the program needs to feed its clientele on a daily basis, and then some.

“We have all the space, equipment and manpower to make everything from scratch every day that we serve meals,” she said. “The kitchen is so well constructed and organized that our efficiency in getting the meals out the door and into the homes of our clients is going to increase dramatically.”

The kitchen features an induction stove and grill, industrial-size mixer, walk-in freezer and refrigerator, commercial dishwasher, as well, bar-code scanning machine and biodegradable trays, as well as a streamlined food pickup area for Meals on Wheels volunteer drivers.

“Once all of the food is prepared and packaged, it is carefully sorted by route number,” Kletzien said. “It is so nice for our volunteer drivers just to come in and grab the items for their route number and go, with really no hassles.”

While Meals on Wheels is still working to raise money for the new facility, Kletzien is hopeful that the fresh food concept of the program will be able to kick into high gear next spring.

“We have ample garden space behind the building and we are really excited about the prospect of having our own garden to grow our own vegetables,” Kletzien said. “Right now, we are still raising funds to pay for the facility.

“Once we get all the way to our goal for the building, we will put more emphasis on the garden,” she said. “We would love to have our own garden up and running next fall.”

Kletzien describes the kitchen’s fresh food processing center as one of the most unique parts of the building.

“Our fresh food processing center is really like a mini food plant for fruits and vegetables,” Kletzien said. “We’ve already had a number of farmers in the area talk to us about growing produce for us next year. The interest level among our local farming community has been outstanding.

“There are so many great people willing to step in and help out our cause,” she said.

As it embarks on its innovative fresh food preparation and delivery program, Meals on Wheels of Sheboygan County is already gaining national attention.

“We are the only Meals on Wheels program in the country doing fresh produce processing in this type of system,” Kletzien said. “It is a very unique program that has a community outreach element at its core.

“We’ve already heard from some other Meals on Wheels programs that want to take a look at what we are doing here,” she said. “I think this is something you will be seeing at other places in the future.”

With the addition of the kitchen and the food production facility, one full-time and two part-time employees have been added to the staff of Meals on Wheels of Sheboygan County.

Director of Food Services Scott Erdmann heads up the three-person kitchen crew as a full-time staff member.

According to Kletzien, the new facility has given Meals on Wheels of Sheboygan County a much greater ability to meet a projected increase in need for services over the next several years.

“We currently serve 350 meals per day,” she said. “Our new facility gives us the ability to serve up to 1,000 meals a day.

“As our population continues to age, we are also anticipating that more people will be electing to stay in their homes instead of going into a nursing home. As a result, we are anticipating a greater need for our services in the near future.”

The office area of the facility features administrative offices for Executive Director Kelly Heyn and her part-time support staff, as well a board room, break room and work/data room.

In addition, a multi-purpose space just outside of the kitchen will serve as a gathering place for the program’s 1,200 volunteers.

“We have a very nice flex space just outside the kitchen where our volunteers will be able to sit down, have a cup of coffee and chat with other volunteers when they come in to pick up their deliveries or for other events that we might have,” Kletzien said. “Before our volunteers always had to wait in their car. It is really nice to have a spot just for them to enjoy on a daily basis.

“We are also planning to use that space for volunteer appreciation programs, as well as a few caregiver seminars and other training events of that nature,” she said.

Kletzien said the new home for Meals on Wheels offers an ideal location for the delivery-based program.

“The central location of the facility is very nice for our volunteers,” she said. “It is really located in middle of the county, which is ideal.”

Kletzien said the project would not have been possible without the generous support of many area businesses, including Vollrath, Kohler, Kees Corp., Mayline Co., Orion, Jos. Schmitt and Son Construction, Northwoods, Lean Kitchen Solutions, Abacus Architects and Betsy Michaels.

“We’ve had so many businesses help us out with so many different parts of this project,” Kletzien said. “The Schmitt family has been particularly supportive throughout the construction process and through the donation of the Loretta Schmitt coffee bar for our volunteers.

“Mayline was very generous with the office furniture and Betsy Michael was nice enough to offer many pieces of James Michael’s artwork, which are displayed throughout the building,” she said. “Kohler and Vollrath were big supporters and Lean Kitchen Solutions did an outstanding job designing our kitchen.”

In addition, Meals on Wheels has been awarded a $50,000 grant from the Helen Bader Foundation based in Milwaukee.

Helen Bader, a former resident of the Black River neighborhood on Sheboygan’s south side, worked as a social worker in Milwaukee for many years, with a focus on Alzheimer’s and other issues related to aging.

“The Bader Foundation grant has pushed this project forward,” Kletzien said. “We continue to raise funds to match the Bader grant.”

Over the past 42 years, the program has grown from one route of six clients to 28 routes with over 350 clients today.

Meals are delivered to homes in Sheboygan, Sheboygan Falls, Plymouth, Kohler, Howards Grove, Elkhart Lake, Crystal Lake and Glenbeulah during the noon hour Monday through Friday throughout the year.

Meals on Wheels provides long and short-term service to homebound clients, based upon individual need. The main qualifying factor for the program is a person’s inability to prepare a nutritious meal.

“We offer our service to people who simply want to remain in their own homes but cannot obtain or prepare proper nutrition,” Kletzien said. “Service lasts for as short as two weeks or as long as requested.

“Many people have meals delivered on a temporary basis, while recovering from surgery or a severe illness,” she said. “Living independently in one’s own home is a universal goal for our clients.”

For more information on Meals on Wheels of Sheboygan County, call 451-7011 or visit the website www.sheboyganmealsonwheels.org


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