Mayors serve county's elderly

Essie Reinhardt celebrated her 99th birthday with the friends she has made at the Senior's Morning Out program in Newton.

She travels from her Newton home to First Presbyterian Church on North Main Avenue to exercise, socialize and celebrate her long life.

Reinhardt is one of hundreds of senior citizens in Catawba County who rely on senior nutrition programs for food, fellowship and daily activities.

Mayors from across the county recognized the services provided by senior nutritional programs, and they volunteered to help serve area seniors Wednesday during national Mayors for Meals.

"Not only is Meals on Wheels providing a service for our senior citizens, but it's also a helping hand and a voice for them," said Conover Mayor Lee Moritz Jr. "I know people say it's a service, but it's really a ministry."

Moritz was joined by Newton Mayor Robert Mullinax, Catawba Mayor Vance Readling and assistant county managers Dewey Harris and Lee Worsley.

Moritz and Conover planning director Lance Hight volunteered to deliver meals Wednesday to the county's homebound seniors. Hight has been a Meals on Wheels volunteer for more than three years. When he saw the Mayors for Meals event appear on his calendar, he knew he wanted to ask Moritz to participate with him.

"I just thought it would be a great idea, and (Moritz) did, too," Hight said.

About 12 percent of Catawba County seniors ages 65 and older live at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty level, which is an income of about $900 a month. Seniors with low incomes are more likely to have nutritional deficiencies or hunger problems, said Jan Shaffer, who works with Meals on Wheels and Seniors Morning Out.

"There was one lady who said if she didn't get a meal (from Meals on Wheels), she would go into placement," Shaffer said.

For seniors who aren't homebound, Catawba County offers five Seniors Morning Out locations, where participants enjoy a nutritious meal and fellowship with other residents. For many seniors, the nutritional programs are their only opportunity to interact with others.

Mullinax, Harris and Worsley served meals Wednesday at First Presbyterian Church in Newton. They organized the nutritious meals and served milk as seniors listened to music and talked.

Each official received a Mayors for Meals apron and, of course, a hair net to help them serve to the best of their abilities.

Wednesday wasn't Mulinax's first time at the Newton Seniors Morning Out. He attended the event last week for Reinhardt's 99th birthday celebration.

"I've enjoyed all these years coming and being with people," said Reinhardt, who has participated in Seniors Morning Out for more than 25 years.

Emma Williams, of Newton, is another faithful Seniors Morning Out participant. She has been coming to the event since 1984.

"It's good to get away from the house and mingle with others," she said. "It's a wonderful program."

For more information about participating in or volunteering for the Meals on Wheels or Seniors Morning Out programs, call (828) 695-5617.