Photo: Guiseppe Barranco/The Enterprise, Photo Editor
Elaine Shellenberger, executive director of Nutrition and Services for Seniors, has decided after 35 years to retire from the outfit that serves up to 2,000 meals every weekday for homebound seniors and at 14 communal dining rooms in Jefferson and Hardin counties,
She was hired in 1984 by Norma Crane, another prominent figure in Beaumont’s caring community, and replaced her as executive director in 2001. Shellenberger is succeeded by Janci Kimball, the new director whose first week on the job was affected by Tropical Depression Imelda.
As with Tropical Storm Harvey in 2017, Nutrition and Services for Seniors rebounded in one day to resume serving meals.
That stands as testament to how well-run Nutrition and Services for Seniors is, said Kimball, who met the staff on Sept. 13 and was helping mop up on Sept. 18.
“She laid such a groundwork for me,” Kimball said of Shellenberger. “When I interviewed, I told them ‘nothing is broken.’ She’s cultivated such a staff that this (transition) will go without a hiccup.”
Kimball, formerly director of the city of Beaumont’s Best Years Center on Fourth Street and during its transition to Lakeside Center, wanted the chance to get back into nonprofit service. She had also replaced longtime Best Years Center director Lynn Huckaby, who had built up a thriving seniors’ recreation, arts and physical activities program there.
A retirement celebration for Elaine Shellenberger, former executive director of Nutrition and Services for Seniors, is from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, 500 Main St.
A program will being at 5:30 p.m.
Shellenberger served Nutrition and Services for Seniors for 35 years dating to 1984 and was its executive director since 2001.
Kimball knew Shellenberger planned to retire and wanted the chance to become director.
“She practically raised me,” Kimball said, referring to their membership at Calder Baptist Church, where Kimball and Shellenberger’s daughter were about the same age.
The job at Nutrition and Services for Seniors is demanding and relies on the same urgency as the famous “last mile” cited by for-profit delivery companies.
Instead of a book or a dress or pair of shoes or a pizza, Nutrition and Services for Seniors is making sure that older people, particularly shut-ins and those who have no family, have at least one hot meal per day. Friday deliveries include breakfast items for the next morning. Participants get non-perishable foods the day before holidays.
Also, the service provides twice-monthly “Ani-Meals” for the four-legged companions.
Shellenberger said that when she started working, the office consisted of Crane and her and three drivers who made deliveries.
“I was the bookkeeper, home-delivery route coordinator and whatever else,” she said. “We had no volunteers, we delivered only in Beaumont and each driver had about 15 home deliveries.”
By 1989, like the acorn that grew the mighty oak, the former Beaumont Nutrition for the Elderly acquired the south Jefferson County service and not long after also took in Hardin County, and changed its name to reflect its regional reach. Orange County has its own program. Some Other Place, an ecumenical ministry, also delivers Meals on Wheels for recipients in Beaumont.
When the former Beaumont Nutrition for the Elderly began operation in 1983, it operated from the fellowship hall of the old Faith Christian Church at Wilson and Fillmore streets in the North End as part of the former Steinhagen YMCA.
Crane noted in an April 1989 article in The Enterprise that acquiring the south county deliveries boosted demand to 1,000 meals a day from its then-current 500, which itself was an increase from about 345 when the service first launched.
By May 1989, the renamed Nutrition and Services for Seniors acquired its present location at 4590 Concord Road, just off East Lucas Drive.
That provided a new kitchen, administrative offices and space for dining, which is now used for meal preparation after the service acquired the next-door church building, which was converted into the new dining room.
Nutrition and Services for Seniors operates on a budget of about $5 million a year, derived from federal and state grants and senior contributions of $2 a meal if they so choose and $1 a ride for transportation to and from medical appointments or for things like grocery shopping.
Shellenberger said Nutrition and Services for Seniors also has its own organic vegetable garden from which they can provide tomatoes, okra and other fresh produce to its clients.
From its small beginnings, Nutrition and Services for Seniors now has about 90 mostly part-time employees and 200 volunteers who drive 40 of the 60 meal routes in Jefferson and Hardin counties, which together covers almost 1,800 square miles. They are making more than 1,200 home deliveries each Monday through Friday.
After Harvey, Nutrition and Services for Seniors added home repairs for affected people who lacked the means to help themselves, finishing about a dozen, Shellenberger said.
After Imelda, the service sent out surveys to its clients to assess their damage. The information is still coming in, Kimball said.
Shellenberger said her husband, Don, urged her to retire, as he did four years ago from Drago Supply Co. He drives a route and she said she’s going to accompany him, so she’ll still be around to help.
It wasn’t a hasty decision on Shellenberger’s part.
“I gave notice a year ago,” she said. “It’s a kind of ministry. This makes a difference in people’s lives. These are real people. My husband had a man on his route whose birthday it was and he was alone. So he went to Rao’s and got him a cupcake. If someone is talkative, you schedule them for the end of your route so you can spend time with them and not make others wait.”
Shellenberger said she will miss everything, except for perhaps the government regulations part.
“We became family,” she said of her staff. “I’ll miss the excitement and the satisfaction.”
Dan Wallach is a freelance writer.