LJ Meals on Wheels serves up more than healthy eats

La Jolla resident Tom Ladner is a good example of the type of client served by the Greater La Jolla Meals on Wheels (GLJMOW) organization.

Wrist surgery left the independent 84-year-old unable to drive, cook or perform even the most basic functions. After hiring live-in help for two weeks, an acquaintance told him about the nonprofit meal delivery service.

For five months, GLJMOW provided daily meals for Ladner, even accommodating his need for the meat to be pre-cut.

“Meals on Wheels (was) really a lifesaver for me because I don’t like to depend on people,” Ladner said.

The La Jolla-based organization, which operates separately from Meals on Wheels Greater San Diego, has been serving homebound and disabled individuals for 35 years.

For $7 a day, clients receive a hot and cold meal plus milk delivered to their front door. Monday through Friday, some 200 volunteers, organized into teams that include a driver and a runner, pick up meals prepared by nutritionists at Scripps Memorial Hospital and distribute them throughout La Jolla and the Golden Triangle area.

The nominal charge barely covers the $6.80 cost of the meals, so volunteers donate not only their time and energy but also gas and travel expenses.

“It’s an extraordinary program with extraordinary people doing extraordinary things,” said La Jolla resident and GLJMOW volunteer Ron Jones.

Jones, who recently stepped into the role of president for the organization, said one of his primary goals is to elevate the group’s profile in the community.

“Too many people sign checks and think they’re doing wonderful things - and they are - but not for La Jolla,” Jones said, adding that many people are surprised to learn the La Jolla agency is not affiliated with San Diego Meals on Wheels.

Ladner was one of those folks.

“I don’t think enough people realize, one, there’s a La Jolla (Meals on Wheels) institution, and, two, that they’re a nonprofit,” he said.

Jane Semelsberger and Don Yanagi, GLJMOW office coordinators, handle inquiries from physicians and concerned neighbors and family members every day, many of whom are surprised to discover the valuable hometown resource.

The group can serve up to 65 clients and meals can be customized for special dietary needs. If needed, the cost is subsidized for clients unable to pay the daily fee.

Perhaps even more important than filling the nutritional needs of clients, GLJMOW volunteers provide a friendly face and caring touch.

“It’s probably the best thing we can do, to know that we’re checking in,” Semelsberger said. “For some, we’re the only people these people are going to see every day. If (not for) us knocking on the door, it would be a tough day.”

The daily interaction serves as a safety check in the event of a mishap. On one occasion, a volunteer called emergency services when he found Monday’s delivery still on the stoop when he returned the next day. The paramedics rescued the client who had taken a fall on Sunday and was unable to call for help.

At the organization’s annual volunteer appreciation luncheon held Nov. 13, four individuals were recognized for 35 years of service - each - to GLJMOW. Don Schutte, Pat Joseph, Kay Verbeck and Quaintance Bartlett represent the dedication many volunteers exhibit.

“It’s really a labor of love for everybody involved,” Jones said. “The value is in the deep appreciation that the people have because it means something to them. It’s taking care of our own.”

For more information about meal delivery services, to volunteer or to donate, call (858) 452-0391 or visit