Imagine yourself sitting at home not knowing where your next meal will come from. What would you do? As humans grow older, it becomes harder to socialize with others, and not feel isolated or alone. Many senior citizens don’t have much family with flexible schedules, or access to other people to provide for them. Whether it is because they don’t have the ability to get out on their own or because they don’t have the assistance, many senior citizens cannot accomplish simple daily tasks such as meal prepping and making food. The smallest things can put the biggest smiles on the faces of people. Furthermore, it does not take a lot to put smiles on the faces of senior citizens. With that being said, the East Alton-Wood River High School representatives of the RiverBend Growth Association Young Adults Committee chose Senior Services Plus (SSP) as our non-profit. This non-profit experience has brought awareness to the importance of slowing down for just a moment to lend a helping hand to those who need it.

In February, the EAWR group within YAC met with the development director, Emily Jackson. When asking Emily Jackson what SSP’s mission is, she responded with, “Our mission is providing opportunities and resources to individuals as they age, and our vision is for everybody to age independently and successfully.” Jackson helps to ensure this mission is successful by fundraising and writing grants as some of her main jobs at SSP. Some clients can donate, but this non-profit funding mainly comes from fundraising and donations from the community. Emily has been a part of SSP for five years. Ms. Jackson stated, “Our organization started fifty-one years ago serving Meals-on-Wheels, and through that time we have increased to about fourteen programs and services that all serve older adults.” Senior Services Plus has been a part of the RiverBend Growth Association since 1991. This non-profit started with three men, Floyd Galliher, Art Steinman, and Roy Morrow, who thought food insecurity was a problem and also noticed that as people age their ability to do things changes. These three men decided that they wanted to fix those issues, and thus how Senior Services Plus was founded.

On March 21, 2024, as the YAC was volunteering at Senior Services Plus, the students were given a tour of the facility by Emily Jackson and Theresa Collins. The students were then split into two groups: one preparing and sealing the meals, and the other packaging them. During this time, they packed over five hundred meals for the Meals-on-Wheels program. The YAC was taught sanitation safety and the importance of proper food preparation. The students were then educated on the organization and operations behind SSP. When asked how many people they began serving versus how many people SSP serves now, Ms. Jackson responded, “We started off just serving the Alton area, and now we serve eight counties in Southern Illinois with all our programs. Meals-on-Wheels specifically serves Madison and St. Clair counties, and last year we did 230,000 meals out of our kitchen here.” The organization receives four shipments throughout every week containing utensils, dry food, ingredients, and more. A medical dietitian approves every meal the SSP prepares to ensure the meals are all nutritious and healthy for the recipients. These meals are prepared seven days a week and are stored in freezers to be sent out through Meals-on-Wheels; around eight hundred meals are prepared per week.

When asked how senior citizens can find out about SSP, Ms. Jackson stated, “Since we have been around for so long we have a couple of things going for us; word of mouth and medical professionals that recommend us.” She also expressed that networking and social media are very important aspects of spreading awareness about this non-profit. Senior Services Plus is more than just a meal program for these citizens, it highlights the importance of the citizens’ mental health along with their physical health. This program is often the only human contact that the clients receive, and therefore, the clients and workers establish connections with each other.  Jackson also expressed, “There have been many stories of a driver going to knock on the door where they know this person by name, they know their habits, if they’re going to answer the door, and they know when it’s odd or out of character for them to not answer the door. There have been so many instances when we have had a driver come across a situation where someone had fallen and the driver had to call paramedics and was able to get the client help. It’s not just the food, it’s the social interaction, and social interaction isn’t just for mental health and social health, it’s also a physical safety aspect. It’s a pretty special relationship.” Jackson said that Senior Services Plus is unique because they are always looking for innovative ways to continue their mission, and they are building capacity around that. She said they are always looking for what the seniors need and how they can fill that gap. If you are interested in supporting SSP, you may contact Emily Jackson at ejackson@seniorservicesplus.org or visit their website at https://www.seniorservicesplus.org/

About the Authors:

  • Kylen Johnson is a senior at East Alton-Wood River High School and has been an active member of the RiverBend Growth Association Young Adults Committee for two years. During high school, Kylen has been involved in Volleyball, Football Cheer, Basketball Cheer, Competition Cheer, Peer Leadership, Renaissance, Saturday Scholars, Big Sisters, Soccer, Spirit Club, National Honors Society, Senior Olympiad, Silver Medallion, and Weightlifting. After graduation, she plans to attend a 4-year university and pursue a major in early childhood education.
  • Mia Plumb is a senior at East Alton-Wood River High School and has been an active member of the RiverBend Growth Association Young Adults Committee for two years. During high school, Mia has been involved in Varsity Basketball, Spirit Club, National Honors Society, Big Sisters, Student Council, Volleyball, Renaissance, Peer Leadership, Madison County Student Ambassador, Senior Olympiad, Silver Medallion, and Saturday Scholars. After graduation, she plans to attend the University of Mississippi at Ole Miss and plans to double major in Criminal Justice and English. After completing her undergraduate degree, she plans to continue her education in law school.
  • Isaac Thornton is a junior at East Alton-Wood River High School and has been an active member of the RiverBend Growth Association Young Adults Committee for one year. During high school, Isaac has been involved in Football, Golf, Wrestling, Track and Field, Renaissance, and Student Council. Isaac has been the Midwest Members Credit Union Male Athlete of the Month. After graduation, he is undecided but hopes to play football at a D3 college or university.
  • Mayonna Jaggie is a junior at East Alton-Wood River High School and has been an active member of the RiverBend Growth Association Young Adults Committee for one year. During high school, Mayonna has been involved in Big Sisters, Renaissance, Peer Leadership, Drama Club, Student Council, and Saturday Scholars. Mayonna was recognized as Oiler of the Month. After graduation, she plans to attend university but is undecided about where she wants to go.
  • Jacob Schaper is a homeschooled high school student. He is the recipient of the Bronze Presidential Volunteer Service Award, Regional Scholar Award, and Maxima Cum Laude honor. Jacob is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society and President of the Eta Sigma Alpha Homeschool Honors Society. Jacob is planning on going to college to pursue Mechanical Engineering.