With health issues limiting their movement, Richard and Rose Broderick of West Seattle rely on Senior Services' Meals on Wheels program for their most substantial meals. The agency, along with Asian Counseling and Referral Services, is among 13 served by The Seattle Times Fund for the Needy.

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His neck felt sore in the days before it happened. Richard Broderick figured it was payback for his job, driving railroad-company vans on bumpy back roads.

Then, on April 1, 1997, he was getting ready for his midnight shift when he found he’d lost the feeling in his arm. “My limbs didn’t want to accept my orders to put my shoes on,” he said, not to mention that he was trying to put them on the wrong feet.

At the hospital, this man who once stood 6 feet tall took what would become his last step. A growth on his spine has left him a quadriplegic.

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Broderick and wife Rose have relied heavily ever since on a program called Meals on Wheels, which delivers microwaveable meals to homebound individuals throughout the county.

“We don’t have to worry about a good, nutritional meal,” Richard Broderick said. “It’s really a godsend.”

Meals on Wheels is operated by Senior Services of Seattle/King County, which also provides transportation, caregiver aid and senior-rights assistance. The agency is among 13 that benefit from The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy.

The Brodericks met in Seattle more than 40 years ago, when both drove the same cab — one by day, the other at night. “I told my boss, ‘You tell that jerk that drives at night to clean it up, because he always leaves it a mess,’ ” Rose Broderick said. “Otherwise, I’m quitting.”

Eventually, the two met at a nearby lounge frequented by cabbies. Did she give him a hard time about his messy taxi? “I still do that,” she said.

Now, her husband is bedridden and she is hampered by congestive heart failure and a lifeless Buick, so even grocery shopping is difficult for them.

As a result, the West Seattle residents rely on regular Meals on Wheels deliveries, made by senior-center volunteers. The Brodericks — as do two-thirds of the program’s clients — receive the maximum 14 allowable meals per week.

“My wife gets seven and I get seven,” Richard Broderick said. The meals make substantial lunches, paving the way for light dinners. He jokes: “I’m trying to keep my nice figure.”

Countywide, the program delivers up to 33,000 meals to between 1,100 and 1,400 clients a month, most of them older single women. Clients can be anyone 60 or older. Income is not a factor.

In a suffering economy, such nonprofit food programs are increasingly crucial. At a food bank operated by Asian Counseling and Referral Services (ACRS), another agency helped by the Fund For The Needy, the number of clients served each month has grown by 12 percent in the last year.

The county’s second-largest such program, the food bank served 4,400 people in the first nine months of 2009. Among them were not just the elderly and members of immigrant groups the agency typically assists but also a growing number of working-age locals who’ve suffered recent job losses.

“We’re seeing a lot of people who haven’t come in the past,” said Gary Tang, the agency’s director of aging and adult services. “… Instead of paying for food, they pay for rent.”

“In challenging times like this … when companies are cutting back on their giving, we rely on the generosity of our community and individual donors,” said ACRS development director Joyce Zhou. It’s good, she said, to hear stories such as that of a teen who received a scholarship through ACRS’ youth peer-advocate program and donated half of it back to the effort.

For Senior Services’ Meals on Wheels, a variety of factors draw clients like the Brodericks. Limited mobility, or even mental-health issues, may prevent them from stocking their own pantries. Maybe frailty has caught up with them; or maybe they were hurt when the old footstool they’d been using to change light bulbs finally gave way.

“They’re homebound,” or just challenged, “in the sense that they have a hard time getting out to shop for groceries or standing for a long time to cook something,” said program manager Adam Porter.

The program also provides meals to 23 senior centers countywide, from Bothell to Enumclaw. Some of the 34 choices it offers — Salisbury steak and fish-and-chips are the most popular — are fashioned for particular communities.

When program officials talked with Asian community representatives, Porter said, “one of the things they said is, ‘You have to offer rice with every meal.’ So come January, we will offer a side of rice instead of a sweet roll.”

Richard Broderick’s favorites are Swedish meatballs and something called “ranchero chicken.” About six minutes in the microwave, “then you take the cellophane off and dig in,” he says.

His glasses barely hang on a sloping nose, his gnarled fingers folded like origami. Stacks and stacks of videotapes — concert footage, old action films — are piled around the cluttered bedroom where he spends much of his time.

The meals give him something to look forward to: “Without Meals on Wheels, we would just be a slave to miscellaneous canned this or canned that. We would be eating fast food.”

Marc Ramirez: 206-464-8102 or mramirez@seattletimes.com

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