“Compassion in Action”
In the mid 1960s the plight of older adults was just starting to be recognized and addressed on the federal level with the passage of the Older Americans Act of 1965. Locally in 1965, Regena Marsh was putting her compassion into action by helping develop and direct the Meals on Wheels program to serve elderly Saint Joseph County residents who were unable to provide nutritious meals for themselves. The program successfully served over 18,000 meals in its first year of operation. Meals on Wheels was a project of the Altrusa Club of South Bend, a group dedicated to helping solve community problems. She continued to run the organization, volunteering every day until her retirement in 1976.
In 1970 while testifying at a Congressional Hearing to amend the Older Americans Act of 1965, Regena discussed how the program began after surveying local health providers and social service workers on what was needed to help improve nutrition in underprivileged older adults within the county. She testified that they had to overcome such hurdles as establishing “delivery boundaries, organization and recruitment, office procedures, fixed costs,” among others.
Regena referred to the program as “an adventure in Christian friendship.” She explained this friendship as part of the mission that “you have to go to them. You have to work through their clergymen and doctors and nurses. It takes a dedicated effort to explain just why they need it.” A key aspect of the program for Regena was encouraging meal recipients to pay “whatever they are able to as a way of preserving self-respect” and later gave the example of “one little lady who gives 25 cents a day. She says, ‘I pay for my meals.’”
Regena summarized the compassion and friendship aspect of the program when she said “their little visit provides a ray of sunshine to an otherwise lonely day.”
- Director of the St. Joseph County YMCA for 23 years
- Founder and Executive Director of Saint Joseph County Meals on Wheels
- Chamber of Commerce Woman of the Year, 1968
- Panelist, “Dietary Services in Health Care Programs,” Indiana Dietetic Association
- George Award winner
- Helped organize Kokomo Meals on Wheels and recognized at first annual dinner
- Testified at Congressional hearing to amend the Older Americans Act of 1965
*Information compiled from various newspaper articles and testimony recorded in the record of the Hearings of the Older Americans Act Amendments for Nutritional Services before the Select Subcommittee on Education of the Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives of the 91st Congress