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Program for home meals has cool idea

Neighborly Senior Services, which runs Meals on Wheels, adds a frozen food service for people who have trouble getting to the store.

Neighborly Senior Services operates daily Meals on Wheels programs and 19 dine-in centers for seniors in Pinellas County. But the organization's nutrition services director, Frank Kneen, believed something else was needed.

So in September, Kneen launched a service called Select Choice, offering healthy, home-delivered frozen meals that have been approved by the organization's dietitians. People can select a five-meal pack for $27 or a seven-meal pack for $33. That comes to about $5 per meal.

"This is for the elderly, disabled, homebound or anyone who has trouble getting to the grocery store," said Kneen. "It could be a weekly service, or people could get it on a one-time basis, if they wished. For instance, if they have just come home from the hospital. And the service isn't restricted to a certain age group."

Joseph Coffey of Island Estates in Clearwater is sold on the service. He is one of about 120 regular customers in the program, which is offered only in Pinellas County.

"If I had to cook for myself, I'd be a skeleton," said Coffey, 87, a widower who has had several operations over the past 12 years. "I used to get hot meals delivered three times a week, but this is better because I can just warm up a meal when I want to."

Kneen said hot meals provided by Meals on Wheels have to be handed to the client by the volunteer driver at the same time every day.

The Select Choice frozen dinners can be dropped off at a time more convenient to the client. Also, if out-of-town family members want to arrange for the delivery for a relative here, they can do so.

Customers have 18 different meals from which to choose. Coffey's favorites: oven-fried chicken, veal Parmesan, Swedish meatballs, batter-dipped fish-fillet nuggets and Salisbury steak with brown gravy.

"In fact, I just called Shirley (Hann) to tell her I want those meals as a standing order," said Coffey, who likes to dine out with his bowling league sometimes and purchases cold cuts and bread from a nearby supermarket.

Aside from the entree, the meals _ prepared by a local food caterer _ contain a starch such as potatoes, rice or pasta, and vegetables along with a bread basket and a plastic container that Coffey calls a "Goody Basket."

"Just look at what's in here," said Coffey as he showed off individually wrapped cakes, cookies, muffins and more. "Sometimes, there's even too much for me. But, at least I have a snack when I want one."

The meals, which are packaged in disposable plastic containers, can either be warmed up in a conventional oven or the microwave. They come with simple instructions.

Dick Johnson of Madeira Beach has ordered Select Choice meals once. And Johnson, 73, said he would consider using the service again.

"They were downright tolerable and wholesome meals," he said. "And sometimes, I don't feel like fixing anything myself.

"I generally like to cook my own food," said Johnson, a diabetic who had his lower right leg amputated recently. "But, after I came home from the hospital, I wasn't hungry for much, so one of my friends gave me one of his meals. I then ordered some for myself."

For information

If you are homebound, elderly, disabled or otherwise unable to shop for groceries, call Neighborly Senior Services to learn about the Select Choice program. Customers can choose a five-meal package for $27 or a seven-meal package for $33 from a menu of 18 entrees. For information, call Shirley Hann, 573-1832.