Service with a smile
Local food programs go beyond meals on wheels
by Adriana Rambay Fernández
Reporter staff writer
Nov 27, 2011 | 6641 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
GOING DOOR TO DOOR – Michael Conroy delivers meals to homebound seniors as part of the countywide Meals on Wheels program.
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For some, Thanksgiving is more than just a good meal; it is a chance to be surrounded by good company. And for homebound seniors in Secaucus who live alone, Meals on Wheels provides a daily visit, conversation, and a watchful eye that makes sure seniors are doing okay.

For families that don’t qualify for the program because of age or income but demonstrate a physical need, Secaucus has partnered with Meadowlands Hospital to provide a daily meal.

Going the extra mile

“We make sure they are taken care of and well fed,” said Florence Tarantino, 72, the local site manager for Meals on Wheels. “We just want to make sure that they are not completely alone.”

Meals on Wheels is a national federally funded program serving homebound seniors over the age of 60. It varies from state to state. At the local level the program differentiates even further according to size, services, and funding.

Secaucus pays $32,200 into the county branch of the program, which is overseen by the North Hudson Council of Mayors.


“It is a great service to me.” – Betty Daniels


Tarantino said that they keep an eye on the seniors, especially when they don’t answer the door.

Michael Conroy, 65, serves as the driver for the program and alerts Tarantino when a senior doesn’t answer the door.

“I’m the only thing between them and the outside world,” said Conroy. “Sometimes they are down in the dumps.”

“Once in a while you get a senior who calls and wants to talk,” said Tarantino. “When dealing with seniors, you go that extra mile.”

“I can’t get out of the house. It is a great service to me,” said Meals on Wheels recipient Betty Daniels, 86, of Secaucus. “I like the management. They are very courteous, very loving people.”

Meals across the county

The county program employs up to 40 staff members across Hoboken, Secaucus, Guttenberg, Weehawken, Union City, West New York and Union City and serves between 500 to 550 seniors, according to Program Director Terry Altamura, who has worked with the program over 30 years. She said the program began in 1978. Jersey City runs its own senior nutrition programs.

She said her nonprofit applies to the state for funding and determines the municipality’s contribution through a local match share budget program.

The county hires local staff like Tarantino to administer the program. Secaucus has four staff members, a vehicle, and receives a bulk delivery of meals each day, which are sorted and arranged at the local nutrition center before being delivered.

The meal consists of milk, juice, bread, dessert, a starch, a vegetable and a meat.

“The meal is pretty generic,” said Tarantino.

“Some of the time it is nice,” said Daniels about the meals. “Some of the time not [so nice]. It all depends.”

On the day the Reporter spoke to Tarantino, the meal was mango pork, brown rice, vegetables, bread, milk, and a tangerine.

The program serves 38-40 Secaucus seniors who are homebound. Seniors must meet the age requirement and demonstrate a physical need.

Determining eligibility

“We make our determination on what we see when we go to the house,” said Altamura. She interviews seniors in their home to determine eligibility. “If they need more help we refer them to a visiting homemaker or adult protective services.”

She said she looks at factors such as how the senior lives and whether they are able to get around. She also considers if they live alone and whether the senior has family nearby.

Altamura said the county also runs a Senior Nutrition Program that provides meals to individuals over the age of 60 at Senior Nutrition Centers in each municipality. She said she would like to see more seniors congregating and coming together around that free meal.

Feeding others in need

For individuals who don’t meet the age requirement, the town has partnered with Meadowlands Hospital to provide a daily meal. The hospital prepares meals for five families in need and also prepares 20 to 25 meals for the senior centers in town.

“It is our way of giving back,” said Ryan Sullivan, director of food and nutrition at Meadowlands Hospital. The service began two months ago.

“It relieved my worries of getting warm food,” said Steve Ostin, 59. “Cindy uses it for dinner. No one cooks.” Ostin and his wife Cindy, 60, who is bedridden and suffers from Multiple Sclerosis, did not qualify for Meals on Wheels but find the daily meal from the hospital provides much needed sustenance.

Gonnelli said before the hospital became involved, neighbors chipped in to help the couple.

For thanksgiving, the hospital cooked an entire Thanksgiving meal for the five families including a turkey and all the fixings that were specially delivered to their homes.

The town also delivered 100 meals to families in need with help from high school volunteers.

For more information about the Secaucus Meals on Wheels program, call Florence Tarantino: (201) 330-2094. For more information about the county-side Senior Nutrition Program call: (201) 866-1113.

Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at

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