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Volunteers recover extra food to create meals for 'Meals on Wings' for Jacksonville seniors

Meals on Wings is a UNF organization that delivers meals to homebound senior citizens in Jacksonville. One of their members will be honored during the Jaguars game.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jaguars and their fans hope they're celebrating a win Saturday night, but there is guaranteed to be a celebration at halftime of the game. A local program called Meals on Wings will take center stage during the biggest Jaguars game in five years.

It's a busy day in the Hicks Hall kitchen on UNF's campus. brussel sprouts, couscous and all manner of food are on the menu, but it's not for anybody in this building.

Meghan Niemczyk is the Assistant Director of UNF's Center for Nutrition and Food Security; for the past four years she, as well as students and staff volunteers have recovered extra food from area hospitals and created healthy meals for home bound seniors in Jacksonville.

"There is a huge need, about 1 in 12 seniors is food insecure," said Niemczyk.

But Meals on Wings, which is a supplement for adults who are on the waitlist for Meals on Wheels, is more than just a delivery of healthy food. It builds a sense of community for the students and the seniors.

"It's part of their heart to see these people and the senior citizens," said Niemczyk, "A lot of the time this is the only interaction they have with someone a day, so the social interaction is something to decrease social isolation in our senior population."

UNF students who help with Meals on Wings agree.

"I love seeing their faces every Friday," says UNF senior Alicia Scott, "the senior citizens are super nice, they want to have conversations with you, they want to see how you're doing in school. They just want someone to listen to, so it's a pretty good experience."

What started as a way to help 20 seniors in 2018 has blossomed into meals for 250 senior citizens across the city.

"The smiles on their faces, they're so grateful," said Niemczyk, "we get thankyou notes, we get stuff at Christmas, they'll knit potholders, the senior citizens make it worth it."

Niemczyk was named as the 2022 TIAA Bank Community Champion and will be honored at halftime of Saturday's Jaguars game.

"Originally when I was named back in August, 30 of my friends and family bought tickets and now they're thrilled they have tickets to one of the best games ever in Jags history," said Niemczyk.

As the van pulls away for this delivery, hopefully the recognition in front of Jaguars fans will help Meals on Wings spread their wings and expand.

"We have ideas," said Niemczyk. "We've done a lot with our senior population, we would love to expand and include families and some other populations in Jacksonville. There's a tremendous need and there are pockets and areas that we're identifying and are ready to jump in and help."

For more information on Meals on Wings as well as UNF's Center for Nutrition and Food Security, email: cnfs@unf.edu

The Jacksonville Jaguars host the Tennessee Titans Saturday night at 8:15 on ABC 25. The winner of that game wins the AFC South and is guaranteed a home playoff game in the first round of the playoffs.

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