By Tim Priebe
May 17, 2022

Serving meals for nearly 50 years

Edmond Mobile Meals Executive Director Cristi Twenter shares the history, recent challenges and her own personal growth.
Volunteers prepare meals for Edmond Mobile Meals clients. (Photo: Brent Fuchs)

Edmond Mobile Meals is a nonprofit organization that provides a nourishing meal and daily wellness check to the homebound elderly and disabled residents of Edmond. The organization currently serves over 240 meals each weekday and 60,000 meals each year with the help of more than four hundred volunteers. The primary goal is to make sure no senior goes hungry, and they remain living independently in their homes for as long as possible.

Volunteers find a need

Edmond Mobile Meals was founded on April 22, 1974. Six local churches donated $25 each to start a home-delivery meal service to feed six homebound seniors who were asked to donate $0.50 per meal. Other local organizations, like the Edmond Women’s Club, have provided financial support since the very beginning.

“The organization was created because elderly residents needed some type of daily contact to ensure they were healthy and happy,” said Executive Director Cristi Twenter. “A group of dedicated neighbors started a telephone ministry to call the homebound residents of Edmond to simply check in and see if they needed anything.”

For many of the residents, these callers were the only voice they heard all day and were a source of encouragement. The volunteers discovered that the greatest need for these homebound individuals had been a hot meal. There were many people, because of their situation, who could not make a nutritious meal for themselves.

“One of the founding members of Edmond Mobile Meals was Carolyn Vance. Her family continues to support our organization and helped us deliver our 1 millionth meal in 2020,” said Twenter. “Another founding member, Sheree Lambert, still volunteers with us every week. She has been a volunteer for 47 years!”

Other founding members include Charlotte Baker, Kathy Steffen, Linda Dela Garza, Ann Maxwell, Mary Winter, Wanda Bewley, Janet Weigand (also still a volunteer), Ada Blankenship, Sally Johnson, Marie Gately, and Jobyna Shepherd.

“We now have three paid staff members, but rely on the assistance of over four hundred dedicated volunteers to help us prepare and deliver over 240 meals each day,” said Twenter. “We also work closely with Project 66 to help make sure our clients have enough food in their pantries.”

Edmond Mobile Meals has partnerships with several local churches and businesses that provide both financial support and volunteers to make sure no senior in Edmond goes hungry. Partners include Life.Church, Homes by Taber, Keller-Williams Central Oklahoma, UCO, Valor Bank, St. John’s, Acts 2 UMC, MidCon Data, The Downtown Edmond Business Association, The Edmond Chamber, Rotary Club of Edmond, Summit Rotary Club, and many more local organizations and groups.

Pandemic shifts service model

Beyond nutrition, Edmond Mobile Meals provides crucial social connections to combat loneliness and isolation, which are prevalent issues among seniors. 

“Sometimes the volunteer delivering the meal to a homebound senior is the only person they will see or communicate with that day,” said Twenter. “So, the human connections we make can be as important, if not more so, than the meal itself for keeping seniors healthy and safe at home.”

Edmond Mobile Meals brought back their original phone calls to homebound clients with a “Friendly Caller Program,” throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to connect with isolated seniors while they were sheltering in their homes to avoid exposure to the virus. 

“We proudly continued to deliver meals without interruption during 2020 and 2021,” said Twenter. “We shifted our operations and delivery models to make sure Edmond’s vulnerable seniors received enough food to keep them at home while minimizing contact and exposure to our volunteers.”

Edmond Mobile Meals also serves as a source of assistance for medical emergencies, especially for seniors with mobility issues or limited contact with family members. 

“We are a medical lifeline for many of Edmond’s seniors. If a client doesn’t answer their door when we arrive, we immediately phone their emergency contacts as a follow-up,” said Twenter. “We want to make sure that our clients are safe, and if there has been a medical situation or a fall, first responders and family members are notified quickly so an injured senior isn’t left suffering alone for an extended amount of time waiting for someone to find and help them.”

Despite lower volunteer turnout and additional COVID-19 precautions, Edmond Mobile Meals was able to continue serving the same number of clients throughout the pandemic, providing meals, interaction and wellness checks with no interruption. 

More than 400 volunteers make the Edmond Mobile Meals delivery service possible. (Photo: Brent Fuchs)

Record-breaking growth

In 2021, Edmond Mobile Meals delivered a program record of over 60,000 meals to 523 homebound seniors in Edmond. Delivery volunteers cover one hundred square miles of Edmond each weekday and provide an additional weekend meal to about half of all clients. 

The organization asks clients upon enrollment if they can contribute a recommended $3.50 per meal, and if they cannot, they are asked to contribute an amount that fits within their situation. If they are unable to contribute anything at all, they are served just as any paying client. 

“We have a diverse financial strategy that allows us to cover the costs for clients who are unable to contribute through support from private donations, grants, community partnerships, fundraising events, and a permanent endowment fund,” said Twenter. 

The biggest challenge staff is facing in 2022 is the rapidly increasing demand for service. The organization has seen a 14% increase in the number of clients served in the last year. 

“In March of 2022, we delivered an average of 241 meals each day,” said Twenter. “In the last decade, demand for our service has increased by 75% due to the aging of the Baby Boomer generation, and we anticipate the number of clients we will serve to double within the next 10 years.”

Twenter’s priority is making sure any senior in Edmond who needs the service is enrolled immediately without any waiting list and regardless of their financial situation. 

“Forty percent of our clients are unable to contribute anything toward the cost of their daily meals,” said Twenter. “The senior population is expected to double by 2030, and we are working hard to make sure Edmond Mobile Meals is here and ready to serve those who need us in this community.”

Anticipating and preparing for that type of dramatic growth can be daunting, but Twenter and her team are actively working with community partners, the City of Edmond, and the organization’s Board of Directors to ensure strategic plans are in place to support the need for additional resources and volunteers.

Mission becomes personal 

Executive Director Cristi Twenter has worked at Edmond Mobile Meals for nearly a decade and continues to dedicate her career to serving Edmond’s most vulnerable citizens. 

“My family returned to Edmond after living in Kansas City for 9 years in 2011. I wanted to connect with the Edmond community, and Edmond Mobile Meals had an opening for a part-time assistant director in 2013,” said Twenter. “I jumped on the opportunity, and I absolutely fell in love with this place, the volunteers, the clients, and the important mission.”

Executive Director Cristi Twenter has served with Edmond Mobile Meals since 2013. (Photo: Brent Fuchs)

Twenter previously worked remotely at a Kansas City advertising agency, but leading the charge of the Edmond Mobile Meals mission brought her a shift in perspective.

“I used to define success by checking off career goals and personal milestones, but now I try to be mindful of the day-to-day wins, joys, and balance right here in the present moment,” said Twenter. “The most rewarding part of the work I do is getting to be a part of the lives of Edmond’s seniors and knowing that what we do makes a real impact in their lives. It’s a true honor for me to get to do this work every day.”

She keeps many notes and phone calls from clients and their families expressing how profoundly grateful they are and how they would not be able to live at home without Edmond Mobile Meals. 

“One client wrote us a letter detailing how his wife of 60+ years was now struggling with Alzheimer’s and could no longer cook for their family or participate in many of the activities that she enjoyed, but the Edmond Mobile Meals volunteers who visit them each day bring her so much joy,” said Twenter. “Just knowing that we can bring a light to her eyes with the simple act of stopping by with lunch is immeasurably rewarding for our staff and volunteers.”

Twenter believes there can be a mistaken perception that Meals on Wheels programs are only for low-income people who can’t afford food, but these programs are specifically designed for homebound individuals who are unable to prepare at least one meal for themselves during the day due to aging-related issues or chronic illness. 

“The clients we serve are the pillars of the Edmond community. They were our city leaders, veterans, teachers, firefighters, and police officers,” said Twenter. “Without their hard work, sacrifices, and service, Edmond would not be the beautiful place it is today. We are honored to give back to the people who laid that foundation for us.”

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About Tim Priebe

Tim is a public speaker, author, publisher of Edmond Business, and the owner of T&S Online Marketing. He helps businesses that are worried they don’t have the expertise or time required to invest in doing their own digital marketing. He helps them plan where and how much to invest and often helps execute the plan.

Tim started the Edmond Business online magazine in May 2020 to fill a need in the community when The Edmond Sun shut down and stopped publishing their monthly magazine, The Business Times.