AniMeals a new feature for  Senior Nutrition Program

Pictured with more than 3,000 pounds of pet food for the Douglas-Cherokee Economic Authority’s Meals on Wheels Senior Nutrition AniMeals Program are from left, Executive Director Katie Luker, East Tennessee Nissan’s Carolyn Bryant and General Manager Stavros Kaplaneris.

Many senior citizens in the Douglas-Cherokee Economic Authority’s Meals on Wheels Senior Nutrition Program have been known to give up half their delivered meals to their pets.

Their pets mean so much to them they’d go hungry just to feed them.

“That just breaks your heart,” Meals on Wheels Executive Director Katie Luker said.

Now, a new program will provide meals to the animals.

The program, AniMeals, will serve Senior Nutrition Program clients in 6 East Tennessee counties, including Cocke, Grainger, Hamblen, Jefferson, Monroe and Sevier.

“We’re just now starting the AniMeals program,” Luker said. “We’re just trying to stay afloat right now. We have six counties total. We have Monroe County that has its own kitchen. We’ve also partnered with another organization that does meals in Jefferson and Sevier Counties.”

East Tennessee Nissan, along with Rural King, Tractor Supply and Walmart donated 3,000 pounds of pet food.

“We want to go through and think of different ways to help out this community and give back as much as we can,” Nissan General Manager Stavros Kaplaneris said. The community has truly come out and supported us like they have in the past. We partnered with Meals on Wheels to launch AniMeals. We noticed that a lot of people that were getting the free meals were taking half of their food and giving it to their animals.”

Kaplaneris explained the dealership went and conducted a food drive for the animals.

Rural King, Tractor Supply and Walmart allowed Kaplaneris to park in front of their businesses to solicit pet food from the community.

“They’ve been absolutely amazing,” he said. “This is the way to partner with the community. The more you can partner, the bigger impact you will have.”

Customers also brought in pet food to East Tennessee Nissan to receive a $500 credit toward purchase of a vehicle. A customer from Montana who purchased a vehicle at the dealership also contributed to the cause.

“We serve about 600 clients in 6 counties,” Luker said. “This program will also serve 77 dogs and 45 cats. We’re going to try to keep it going as long as we can. If the donations keep coming in and we keep getting the money to fund it. ”

At this time, the Meals on Wheels program only has seven drivers, so more drivers are needed to deliver meals.

The Meals on Wheels Senior Nutrition Program provides home delivered meals to the homebound and congregate meals for those who still are active enough to get out.

Transportation is provided for congregant participants who need it. Home delivered meals ensure that our homebound participants receive at least one hot nutritious meal per day and they also receive the benefit of someone checking on them daily.

The congregate program promotes staying active and healthy by giving seniors a reason to get out of the house and take part in food and fellowship with others. Senior Nutrition meals provide one-third the recommended daily allowance of nutrients for senior adults. The program strives to break the cycle of poor nutrition leading to poor health.

Senior Nutrition serves approximately 400-500 clients per day with a waiting list of more than 300 people. The program targets low-income and disabled seniors. Income is not a factor in determining meal eligibility, though the majority of applicants are poverty level and below. Eligibility is determined by how great an applicant's need and how much help, if any, they receive from family and friends.

The amount of grant funding does not provide the total amount needed to support the program entirely with the number of seniors that qualify for the program. Sponsorships are available for anyone wishing to provide a monthly monetary amount to help a senior receive a nutritious hot meal daily. In addition, any and all general donations are accepted at any time.

To make a donation, call 423-581-2984.