BENNINGTON >> Susan Fox believes in the importance of a good, healthy, home-cooked meal.
Good nutrition nourishes the body and mind, the executive director for the Bennington County Meals on Wheels program says. And for seniors, eating healthy can prevent illnesses that can lead to hospitalizations.
"Using healthy and delicious food to help them live these years in safety and dignity has motivated me and my staff each day," Fox said.
Fox will be retiring from the position she's held for eight years. An active search for a new executive director has been launched, according to Seline Skoug, chairwoman of the board. Fox will stay during a transitional phase.
In an interview after the lunch rush at the senior center's Bennington Cafe on Friday, Fox said she's looking forward to taking a break from the fast-paced environment, having time for herself, and travelling. But she's still passionate about helping county residents and is looking for other opportunities.
"There's a tremendous need and potential for building some strong food systems in Bennington and around the county," she said.
Over 50,000 home-style meals, made from scratch with fresh ingredients, are served to county residents each year through the local Meals on Wheels Program. About 200 are served a day, 75 percent of them to home bound seniors. Fox oversees a team of kitchen and delivery staff. The program has meal sites at Manchester Town Hall, the Bailey Hall in East Arlington, the Stamford Community Church and the Pownal Center Firehouse.
Fox, of Bondville, has a background in social work, psychology and cooking — she trained in French cuisine by Lydie Marshall at Peter Kump's Cooking School, now the Institute of Culinary Education, in Manhattan. Before she became executive director, Fox volunteered for six years, cooking and delivering meals, and served as board chairwoman.
The majority of people served are elderly on fixed incomes, Fox said. For many, it's the only meal they eat each day. And more than two-thirds of participants say they don't eat the recommended four to six servings of vegetables each day.
Fox said partnerships between the organization and local farmers, food producers, businesses and the Vermont Food Bank has increased the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables. Produce that may not be used is "gleaned" to reduce food waste. She worked with Southwestern Vermont Medical Center to send discharged seniors to the Pleasant Street cafe, reducing readmission rates. She fostered a job training program for adults and young adults. She's spoken at national conferences about the cafe, a restaurant-style meal site offering meal choices and social contact.
"There's nothing else like this," she said of the Pleasant Street site. "A lot of them come every day. They eat and afterwards will sit and talk with us and their friends. It's a huge source of social interaction for them."
Skoug said in a statement that board members can't say enough about the contributions Fox made to the lives of local seniors.
"We're proud to see Meals on Wheels play such an important role in the health of our community," Skoug said. "She has built a wonderful program and laid the groundwork that the next leadership can embrace and build upon."
"Susan has been a pleasure to work with and an inspiration to us all," said Thea Kelly, board treasurer. It was Fox's drive and energy around providing nutritious meals to seniors that drew her to the board, she said.
"It will be paramount for us on the Board to continue her legacy by ensuring that the meals continue to be fresh, nutritious and tasty."
The five-member Board of Trustees will post the position and conduct interviews with the goal of having a new full-time executive director in place this fall.
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979