HOMETOWN HERO SPOTLIGHT: Wheatheart Nutrition Project

March 28, 2024

March is recognized as National Nutrition Month, and it is also the first month that the Blackwell Journal-Tribune and Beth Hiatt-Shelter Insurance are working together to launch our Hometown Heroes segment where we will highlight people and organizations in the community.

Wheatheart Nutrition serves nearly 300 lunches per day, 4 days a week, and acts not only as a place for area seniors to congregate and eat nutritious meals, but also to play games, socialize, and make new friends.

Wheatheart Head Cook Jennifer Nelson, Cook Alycia Whicker, Site Manager Rebecca Roberson, and Dietician Deirdre Postier came together last week to discuss the importance of Wheatheart and the impact the program has on the community.

Roberson, who has been with Wheatheart for over 10 years, says that the most important thing about the organization is seeing people happy.

“It’s about seeing our guests smile,” she said, “they get food in their bellies and they get to sit here for hours and visit, have fun, play games, and really be a part of a community.”

Roberson is in charge of preparing recipes, constructing menus, ordering groceries, and working closely with dietician Postier.

Alycia Whicker, who has been with Wheatheart for 3 years, agreed.

“It’s a social program,” she said, “we have bingo, holiday events, and they have input on our menus. I call them, talk to them, ask what they like and what they don’t like. This is very much a ‘community center’ as much as it is a food program.”

Wheatheart Nutrition Project has 13 sites across 8 counties. Blackwell’s site is crucial, as they have one of the project’s 3 kitchens which cooks for over 200 in the local area.

Wheatheart Nutrition Project, Inc. prepares and serves congregate and home bound meals in an eight county area.

The menus are developed by a Registered Dietician and provide 1/3 the daily allowances established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council.

The purpose of the project is to serve midday meals to persons age 60 or older, promote social activities, support services, and to provide outreach information and referral on topics of interest to senior citizens. Nutrition education and counseling are also available.

“We have some people that maybe were only eating one meal a day,” said Head Cook Nelson, “now they are eating here and at home.”

“If someone isn’t here, if they miss a day, we call and we check on them. We get to know these people that come in, they become like family, and so do all of us that work and volunteer here,” Nelson continued.

Whicker reminded that the program isn’t simply for those 60 or older.

“Guests under 60 are welcome as well,” she noted, “as long as they pay for their meal. We have our guests bring friends, neighbors, grandkids, as long as we are notified ahead of time so we know how much food to prepare.”

When it comes to food, that’s where Postier comes in.

“Our menus have to meet guidelines for all nutritional standards. The right amount of protein, 2 fruits or vegetables, grain, bread, or an alternative, milk, and a dessert,” explained Postier.

“I work closely with everyone here. I come in about twice a month, I help to plan these meals months in advance. I look at National Food Days, talk to the cooks and site manager, I take everything into account when planning these menus. I’m only here a few times a month, and even in those instances I see how closely the friendships that are made here are, and the strength of the bonds that are formed.”

In addition to the fun programs, food, bingo, and holiday activities, Postier said that Wheatheart also holds nutritional education and other informative programs.

In addition to the staff within Wheatheart, the organization also relies on volunteers to help with meal deliveries to the home-bound.

“We have roughly 13 pretty steady volunteers,” Manager Roberson said, but we are always looking for volunteers and extra help.”

Monthly, Wheatheart averages over 100 combined volunteer hours helping out around the center and delivering food to Blackwell, Tonkawa, Newkirk, and Pond Creek.

“Sometimes we have to turn down volunteers,” said Nelson, “other times we don’t have enough. In the colder months, we rely a lot more on our drivers delivering these meals because more of our patrons might choose to stay home and avoid the bad weather.”

Nelson continued, explaining what goes on behind the scenes:

“All of our food is safe, It is checked 3 times through the course of meal preparation to make sure it is properly and fully cooked. All health practices are accounted for and strictly maintained- gloves, hairnets, all of that. We follow very strict sanitation guidelines.”

“We get here around 6 a.m,” explained Whicker, “and we gave guests coming in as early as 7 a.m. to congregate. We served lunch at 11:30 and there’s a 30-minute window where that food is served, then our guests stay here until around 2 or 3 and just visit and play games. We talk to them, know them by name, and know their families. It is so rewarding.”

Wheatheart averages around 25-40 people a day in the center on Blackwell Avenue. The staff stated that prior to the pandemic, they would see anywhere from 80-100 coming in.

“It has taken a while post-pandemic, but we are seeing more and more people come in,” said Nelson, “we are glad to see their smiling faces again.”

Aside from volunteering, Wheatheart is always open to accepting donations.

Bingo prizes, tea, coffee, sugar, creamers, condiments, and monetary donations are always welcome as well.

“Big or small,” said Site Manager Roberson, “anything helps us.”

For those 60 or over who wish to come to Wheatheart or want home-delivered meals, all they have to do is call (580) 262 0303.

Do you know of a Hometown Hero? We would love to feature them in one of our upcoming articles. Please email bhiatt@shelterinsurance.com or text 580-363-3610 with suggestions.