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Beacon renames Meals on Wheels program

Organization decides on ‘Beacon Bites’

March 29, 2017
By ED FRANKS ( , Pine Island Eagle

The long running Meals on Wheels program at the Pine Island Beacon of HOPE has been renamed "Beacon Bites." The name change was made to indicate a refocusing of resources to combat issues facing Pine Island seniors.

Meals on Wheels is a worldwide program that delivers meals to people unable to purchase or prepare their own meals. The name is often used generically to refer to home-delivered meals programs, not all of which are actually named "Meals on Wheels."

According to a press release from the Beacon, "In 2013 AARP and Brown University School of Public Health conducted a research study to get a better understanding of the effects of a Home Meal Delivery Program. The study interviewed clients, care givers and providers ... "

"The results mirrored what we find here on Pine Island with the 'Beacon Bites' program," executive director Betsy Haesemeyer said. "Our clients are isolated, extremely frail, have health issues, frequently fall, are often depressed and anxious, and they are hungry."

In 2005, the Beacon of HOPE joined with the Christian Cooperative in Fort Myers to participate in the Meals on Wheels program. Meals were provided free or at reduced cost three times a week. In 2010, meals were increased to five times a week but were no longer free the Beacon absorbed meal expenses. In 2013, the Meals on Wheels program expanded to six days a week.

"Last November, Christian Cooperative notified us they wouldn't be able to deliver food for our Meals on Wheels program," Haesemeyer said. "This was disappointing because people depend on us for these meals so we had to find another way. We decided to create our own program that we named 'Beacon Bites.'

"When Robin Lilly from Lilly's Island Deli heard about our need for meals, she volunteered to provide these meals," Haesemeyer said. "Thanks to Robin we are able to deliver a fresh made lunch from Lilly's 5 days a week. Each meal consists of soup and a sandwich with either water or juice and a snack."

Beacon Bites also delivers a frozen meal on Saturday, milk is delivered every other Monday and pizza from Pine Island Pizza is delivered on the last Wednesday of the month.

"These are personal sized pizzas and help us fill the needs of Pine Islanders," Haesemeyer said.

"The food is important but a very important part of what we do is the interaction and making personal contact," driver Rad Hazen said. "People come to Florida, leave their friends, leave their family and then they get older. The people I see when I deliver these meals cuts across every demographic you can imagine. There's a tremendous amount of isolation for some people and people need interaction. This isn't a 100 percent solution but it certainly helps."

Senior citizen Roosevelt Carter's leg was amputated and he is now confined to a wheelchair. He receives some help from his son. When his food was delivered Wednesday, he said, "The food is good and it's great for people that can't get around any more."

Bokeelia resident Gail Stone is housebound.

"The Beacon offers so many services that there are too many to mention," Stone said. "I've used their computer services and internet services as well as their phones. And the networking lets people know what services are available where they wouldn't know about them otherwise.

"It's not just about the food because these visits make a connection with people," Stone said. "It works so well for me because I live in such a remote area and I don't have a vehicle, but I imagine it works just as well for others. It's about the love, friendship and support that the Beacon gives."

"Our drivers care about our clients," Haesemeyer said. "We don't just deliver food, we check on how people are doing, make sure their house is in order, and that they are OK. We'll spend some time talking and catching up from our last visit.

"Research shows that home-delivered meal programs significantly improve diet quality, increase nutrient intakes, reduce food insecurity and improve quality-of-life among the recipients," Haesemeyer said "Sometimes it a money issue, sometimes it's a mobility issue, and sometimes it's both. I urge anyone who needs this service, or anyone who knows anyone who needs this service, to contact the Beacon of HOPE,"

The Beacon of HOPE is at 5090 Doug Taylor Circle, St James City, FL 33956. Call 239-283-5123 or visit



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