By Melinda Munson
When Paul Munson was hired by Southeast Senior Services as Skagway’s site manager, it was like coming home. Before moving to Alaska in 2016, Munson headed the Las Vegas Meals on Wheels program where his crew fed 1,200 elders a day.
Skagway’s program furnishes rides and food for 20 seniors, but the goal is the same: to provide nutritious meals and social opportunities to a vulnerable population.
A recent transplant to Skagway after his wife and her business partner were awarded The Skagway News, Munson missed cooking for a non-profit.
“I love the enjoyment that good food can give to people,” Munson said. “It’s even more rewarding in a non-profit setting.”
Munson replaced the irreplaceable Tim Salter, who started with Senior Services in 2000. Salter had professional cooking experience and eventually became head of the program.
“Everyone else left town … I was last in line. I got it by default,” he said.
Twenty years later, Salter now describes himself as “semi-retired.”
“I have no plans of quitting the job entirely,” Salter explained. While he is no longer site manager, Salter will continue to help out in the kitchen, provide in-town rides and assist elders with errands.
The bearded, cigar chewing chauffeur is a familiar sight in the valley, but now he drives a new white van, which replaced the previous 1995 model.
Salter said it’s thanks to a community effort that MOW can function in such a remote location.
“We couldn’t do this without help from different people in town,” he said.
Skagway First Presbyterian Church donates the dining hall and kitchen space and Catholic Community Services sponsors the non-profit program.
Normally, seniors meet three times a week for a shared meal. That all changed with COVID-19. Congregate meals were replaced with home delivery and check-ins. Beginning July 1, elders will again meet for community meals.
“That’s one of the big things about this program, the socialization,” Salter said.
MOW will invite guest speakers and a special visitor will greet elders at the door. All attendees must be vaccinated for COVID-19.
Anyone under 60 can purchase a meal for $10. There is no fee for those 60 and older, but a $3 contribution is suggested. According to Munson, community donations to Southeast Senior Services are always appreciated.
Dahl Memorial Clinic’s medical director, Johanna Huff, helps her mother access Senior Services. They are both looking forward to the resumption of in-person lunches.
“She enjoys someone coming over especially for her. It makes her feel like she is still a part of society,” Huff said.
For Huff, who works multiple hours a week at the clinic, the program gives her “peace of mind.”
Munson is also happy the elders will be gathering once again at the green fellowship hall for a “home” cooked meal.
“I love seeing people’s reactions when they eat my food. It’s instant feedback. I know what works and what doesn’t,” he said.