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Beacon Senior News

Hungry Hearts Program feeds more than the body

Jun 25, 2020 02:03PM ● By Jan Weeks

Isolation, anxiety, stress. In the time of COVID-19, thousands of people here on the Western Slope exhibit all of those. For seniors, these emotions can be especially debilitating. Sometimes all it takes is a prepared meal to lift spirits and reinforce the idea that someone cares. To that purpose, the Hungry Hearts program was born, facilitated through SummitWest Care.

Feeding hearts

According to Charleen Raaum—CEO of SummitWest Care, the largest home care company in the Valley—when the pandemic shut everything down, the care team met to brainstorm ways to show their clients and others that they’re not alone.

“We’re all about serving our community and providing a better quality of life. In team meetings we are always asking what can we do and thinking outside the box,” Raaum said.

Since the virus left a lot of people wondering where their next meal would come from, employees saw an opportunity to do something, and that something was food.

Together with Andrea Smith, who is in charge of business development at SummitWest Care, the two worked to write grants to fund a program that would enlist local restaurants to prepare meals. They received funding from the #GJStrongFund, Caring for our Community Fund through Western Colorado Community Foundation and a donation from Western HealthCare Alliance. Though the current grant money has run out, the women have applied for more grants to keep the program going.

Hungry Hearts volunteers

Employees volunteered to pick up meals from restaurants and deliver them. Smith kept track of the statistics.

“Seven hundred employees volunteered to deliver meals to 470 households and 1,663 individuals,” Smith reported.

Both women agreed that volunteering gave the employees much in return, including the pleasure of giving while receiving appreciation from those they fed.

The Hungry Hearts program is not limited to seniors and is free for recipients. In addition to easing food concerns, SummitWest Care reached out to the Department of Human Services, HopeWest, Strive and other agencies to serve those who might need some food and kindness in a time of uncertainty.

Someone cares

Katherine Hambek, 62, cares for husband Dave, 67, who suffers from heart failure and permanent nerve damage to his lower extremities, making him prone to falls. She thought she was doing a good job until SummitWest Care staff showed her ways to maximize care and save time by organizing chores, such as giving Dave medications on schedule, taking his vitals and helping him shower and get dressed.

“I’m a clean person,” Hambek said, “and I learned even more about how important cleanliness is. I even learned how to clean away spider mites that might spread disease.”

The couple are pretty much homebound. One day, Hambeck was feeling overwhelmed when a Hungry Hearts volunteer called to inform her that she’d be receiving a prepared meal. The small gesture made a huge difference.

“It made us feel like we matter, and someone cares enough to help,” Hambek said. She added that the chicken fettuccine and salad were delicious!

David White, 70, is responsible for his wife, Barbara, who’s been hospitalized five times in four years for complications from rheumatoid arthritis and dementia. After her last hospitalization, long-term care wasn’t an option due to the virus.

“I had to step up and roll with the deteriorating situation. SummitWest Care trained me on how to best take care of her at home,” White said.

Raaum delivered a meal that fed the couple for three days, giving White a much-appreciated break.

“It was nice to be recognized for the work I do with Barbara. Hungry Hearts made my life easier for a weekend, and it was most welcome,” he said.

White added that if further funding allowed the Hungry Hearts program to continue, he would view any more meals as a treat, rather than a necessity.

“I wouldn’t want to subscribe or receive meals all the time, but an occasional meal would be wonderful,” he said.

You matter

SummitWest Care operates 24 hours a day, every day of the year, offering both skilled nursing care and unskilled help such as running errands and housekeeping. Its mission states, “You matter, we care.”

“We really want to ensure that. Kindness is needed in this crazy time,” Raaum said.

To that end, the organization offers in-home newborn and pediatric care, adult and senior care, and physical and speech therapy. Medicaid sponsors in-home support services (IHSS) that provide care, training and resources to assist family members and friends in caring for the elderly and disabled, or children with disabilities. Private insurances and private pay are also accepted.

If you’re in need of support or know someone who needs more help, contact SummitWest Care in Grand Junction at 263-0202, Glenwood Springs at 945-6455 or visit