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Nonprofit ensures seniors _ and their pets _ don’t go hungry

🕐 4 min read

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — He thinks he’d be in a nursing home without it.

Stop volunteers from bringing low-sodium chicken tetrazzini or Salisbury steak with gravy to Irvin Lawton’s downtown home, and the Savannah man on dialysis thinks he’d have to move into a “facility.”

And if Lawton did enter a nursing home, the self-declared cat person would certainly be pet-less.

“I’ve always loved cats,” says Lawton, 72, who talks about his orange-black-and-white rescue that eats from tin bowls and shares his bed.

Senior Citizens Inc. has both downtown residents covered.

Lawton is among about 100 locals who also receive pet food, for free, from the local arm of the national Meals on Wheels for the Meals on Wheels Loves Pets program.

“I think it’s cool,” Lawton says.

“You can’t go too long without food,” says Patti Lyons, president of Senior Citizens Inc., the local nonprofit that delivers 1,800 lunches daily in four counties.

Sitting in her Bull Street office, Lyons gives stats about hungry seniors and mentions a waiting list with names of 600 low-income locals hoping for Meals on Wheels dinners they can’t afford.

Senior Citizens Inc. aims to help people age successfully, and meals, both hot and frozen, serve toward that end.

Seniors may use canes or walkers, and mobility issues keep many inside their homes, according to Lyons.

Maybe pizza delivery is one option, but low-income locals can’t afford it often, and diets restrict such salty foods.

Nutrition plays a big role in their ability to live, according to Lyons.

Lawton, for one, is grateful.

Inside his living room, he sits on an armchair and mentions how his electric bill gets “outrageous” in the hot summer. He shows concern when the front door is open longer than it should, letting out cool air.

“Mr. Lawton, hi,” calls Kelly Applegate, marketing director for Senior Citizens Inc., who knocks on his white front door.

She bears about three pounds of dry kibble in a resealable plastic bag, and a small pouch of Party Mix cat treats.

His cat Phyllis seems to be out of the house on a jaunt and is not available for pictures.

“It helps out a lot, you know, when you’re on a fixed income,” Lawton says of the cat food.

But volunteers bring more than food.

They are essentially checking on people who are mostly low-income, homebound seniors living alone.

Volunteers call a senior’s point of contact if no one answers the door.

And when they do answer their knock, perhaps a conversation ensues, or maybe just a hello.

Some must rush to their next stop; some stay and chat.

“Most of them do talk,” says Lawton, who mentions that volunteers “are very, very nice — excellent.”

They ask how he’s doing, or talk about church, he says.

But volunteers have also watched clients share the food they bring with pets.

“That’s not good for the pet or the senior,” Lyons says.

Lawton, by the way, makes clear he doesn’t feed his cat the food meant for humans.

He appreciates his meals: Low-sodium, some warm, some frozen and helpful to an older man who doesn’t feel like cooking after his dialysis.

The dialysis helps his non-working kidneys, but zaps his strength like Savannah’s sweltering temperatures, “like the heat out there,” Lawton says.

But around 2012, Senior Citizens Inc., started using donations of cat and dog food to give to Meals on Wheels clients.

This year, a $2,500 grant from Meals on Wheels America allowed them to expand their care with aid such as flea medicine and shots.

And food aside, if people praise the volunteers who deliver it as much as Lawton, then the pet program delivers another perk, because it requires an extra visit from another volunteer.

Different volunteers drop off the pet food and human food, according to Lyons, who says the pet food deliveries are more flexible, occurring even on weekends.

“These are people who are isolated,” Lyons says of seniors.

And if Senior Citizens Inc. is filling its mission to help people age successfully, then pets help.

Applegate shares information about seniors with pets: They’re less likely to report loneliness and have fewer doctor visits.

Lyons understands.

The best example of Senior Citizens Inc.’s newer outreach may be padding across the lobby floors in a pink rhinestone collar.

Staff rescued Petunia from outside about five years ago when the marble-colored cat was a skin-and-bones kitten.

They fed her; she brings them joy.

“She makes every day more fun,” Lyons says of the organization’s full-figured feline.

Petunia eats diet kibble — “don’t tell her,” Lyons whispers in jest — but feasts from two food settings.

Lyons doesn’t want Petunia, or anyone, “food insecure.”

“Nobody should be hungry,” she says, mentioning America’s wealth. “It makes me sad.”

___

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