PEKIN — A Peoria-based community service organization that provides Meals on Wheels to senior citizens in Peoria and Tazewell counties, is hoping to increase its services on this side of the river.

According to Brent Oest, who heads the Meals on Wheels program for the Neighborhood House, there is a particular need for expanded services in rural Tazewell County. We Care had been delivering meals to rural areas in Delavan and Hopedale. However, funding concerns have forced the Morton-based food pantry to scale back deliveries to within Morton.

“A lot of people look at the cities and the towns as being where the (bulk) of the people are,” he said. “That’s not always the case. Some of the people in rural areas basically don’t have a grocery store or Dollar General or gas station within five miles. We’re looking to serve those people.”

Neighborhood House is partnering with Hopedale Medical Complex and has reached out to churches and charitable organizations throughout the county, Oest added. While funding is always a concern, Neighborhood House will need enough clients from a given area in need of delivery services to make it worth the organization’s while to send drivers.

“That’s why we’ve done mass mailings to a lot of the rural churches in Tazewell County and in Pekin itself,” said Oest. “We’re trying to reach the masses instead of one person at a time. It’s easier to serve if we have a handful of people than if we only have one in a specific area.”

To facilitate the expansion of services, Neighborhood House also needs more delivery drivers and volunteers, Oest added. In addition to delivering meals, drivers often provide home-bound seniors with their only opportunities for social interaction.

“The drivers may be their only company of the day for the couple of minutes they’re there,” he said. “A lot of what it entails is a generic wellness check. Our drivers are seeing these folks daily. So, they can see when something’s wrong. They get a really deep connection with (the seniors). The meals are obviously a way for these folks to maintain independence while living in their own homes. But they’re also a way to kind of have someone looking out for them.”

Neighborhood House was established in 1896. The organization was formed to meet the needs of the community and traditionally focuses on senior and child hunger. Neighborhood House currently serves about 700 meals a day, with an estimated 250 of those meals served in Tazewell County. In addition to delivering Meals on Wheels to home-bound seniors, the group provides meals to congregant sites like the Miller Senior Center in Pekin.

“Congregant sites are (places) where seniors who can get out (and) come and eat the meal that we provide,” said Oest. “It gives them a chance to break the social isolation.”

Neighborhood House is funded through grants from area nonprofit organizations and businesses. For more information, visit www.nhpeoria.org.