ROCKLAND, Maine — Lois Stackpole-Alley arrives at 4 a.m. for her job cooking meals for residents of the Methodist Conference Home and for those people who will receive Meals on Wheels deliveries.
Stackpole-Alley of Rockport has been cooking and overseeing the kitchen at the Methodist Conference Home for 46 years. This follows a decade of cooking for a summer camp that served people with disabilities.
She said she feels blessed with her work. She works throughout the day, and asked when she goes home at the end of the day, she said, “When the work is done. I don’t punch a time clock.”
“I would go out of my mind if I did nothing. I get up every morning and say how lucky I am,” said the MCH food services director.
The Methodist Conference Home has 48 residents. Most are elderly, while some are younger people with disabilities.
Lee Karker, the executive director of MCH, said Stackpole-Alley is the face of the Meals on Wheels program.
“She is a tireless advocate for the program. She has made many connections in the community and is not afraid to contact them when there is a need,” Karker said.
A large percentage of the Meals on Wheels recipients are in their 80s or 90s. The Meals on Wheels programs helps people to live independently, she said, by providing them a warm, nutritious meal that they otherwise would not get. The Meals on Wheels recipients live independently but are not able to do the shopping or cooking on their own.
The local Meals on Wheels program in Knox County began with a luncheon served by the women of the Methodist Church in Rockland. Elderly residents could go to the church, located where the Wyeth Center is now, and have their lunches. The volunteers eventually asked Stackpole-Alley if she would cook the meals because the same women were being called on each day. That program began 46 years ago as well.
When Meals on Wheels began in Knox County, it started with 10 people who would get meals delivered each weekday. That has grown to 124 people with more than 100 volunteers delivering the meals. Part of Stackpole-Alley’s job is drawing up the routes for the volunteer drivers.
Stackpole-Alley said the nutrition is not the only benefit for those receiving the meals. She said the program allows them regular human contact. The human touch is important to Stackpole-Alley, who said she knows the voices of each of the 124 people who now get their daily deliveries. When they call, she can call them by name before they even identify themselves and that lets them know that there is someone who cares.
Karker said Stackpole-Alley will visit each new Meals on Wheels recipient and make an assessment of their needs. She then will try to connect them with other services if they are in need of those.
Knox County has the greatest percentage of elderly in Maine and Maine has one of the highest percentages of elderly in the country. The 2012 U.S. Census estimate for Knox County finds 7,769 of the 39,848 residents are 65 years old or older, which is nearly one out of five residents. Statewide, less than one out of six residents are 65 or older and throughout the United States that age group is nearly one out of eight residents.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree visited the Methodist Conference Home kitchen last month and met with Stackpole-Alley. The congresswoman then took a turn at delivering some meals.
Though the local program receives federal and state aid, MCH has to raise more than $150,000 each year to support the program. Stackpole-Alley urged public support for the program.
If anyone is in need of the home deliveries, they can contact Stackpole-Alley at 594-2740. And if anyone wants to donate to the program, they can go online at www.mchinc.org or send a check to MCH Meals on Wheels, 46 Summer St., Rockland, Maine 04861.
The MCH Meals on Wheels program is also one of four nonprofit organizations that will be beneficiaries of an event co-sponsored by Cellardoor Winery and Megunticook Market. The event, to be held in June, is called Pop the Cork.
This year, four nonprofits — MCH Meals on Wheels, United Mid Coast Charities, Coastal Opportunities and Hospitality House — will share in a total of $160,000. One agency will receive $100,000 and the other three will receive $20,000 each. The decision about who gets the $100,000 will be made by the number of votes each organization receives. Voting is done online at www.popforchange.com.
Stackpole-Alley cooked her first meal at the Methodist Conference Home on April 19, 1968.
At first, the home provided noontime meals to the residents. Now breakfast, the main meal at noon and an evening meal are provided. The noon meal is the most in demand, she said.
Since most of the people who she is feeding are elderly, there are some adjustments she makes when cooking. She adds no salt to the meals, and for diabetics, she will make sure they have fresh fruit for their desserts. And, she stressed, all the meals are made from scratch.
A lot of the people she serves also need to have their meat cut up, a task she does gladly.
The elderly can be set in their ways, she said, but she tries to vary the menu and provide them offerings they may not have previously tried.
“They don’t have a chance to get bored,” she said.
The Methodist Conference Home was not Stackpole-Alley’s first cooking job. Before that, she had served for 10 years as the food service director for Camp Oceanwood in Friendship. The summer camp was run by the Perkins School, which served people with disabilities.
Stackpole-Alley recalls how she got the MCH job 46 years ago. Gerry Kinney, who was the first director of the Methodist Conference Home before the building was occupied by residents, asked her whether she was interested in a full-time job cooking and overseeing the kitchen operations at the Rockland complex.
She accepted and later helped start the local Meals on Wheels program.
“This is crucial to the life of many people who have to make difficult decisions on how to spend their limited Social Security income,” she said. “Tea and crackers are not a meal.”