As printed in the Winston-Salem Chronicle
August 27, 2020
Senior Services’ Meals-on-Wheels program has been providing meals and safety checks to older adults since 1962. This year there are about 1,200 Forsyth County seniors participating in the program and relying on the agency for nutritional support, a brief friendly visit and wellness check each weekday.
Their need for this service is as critical as ever while they, along with our entire community, face the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like virtually every business and nonprofit in the country, the coronavirus has forced Senior Services to change the way it operates to meet those needs. Instead of a daily hot meal personally delivered by an army of volunteers each weekday, a skeleton crew of dedicated staff and volunteers now delivers a five-pack of frozen meals once per week.
The virus has also reduced the number of face-to-face engagements participants have with volunteers. “We know Meals-on-Wheels’ recipients miss the daily in-person interaction with volunteers, and to be honest, the volunteers miss it just as much. However, we’re committed to doing our part in slowing the spread of COVID-19 and reducing the risks to seniors and volunteers,” said Holly Beck, Senior Services volunteer manager. “Cutting back on in-person contact is one of the best ways we have of doing that.”
Volunteers and staff still provide each participant with a telephone safety check multiple times per week to make sure people are doing okay, to connect them with resources when needed, and to try to combat social isolation which we know may set in as we continue to keep our distance from each other.
In an effort to keep the volunteers who continue to deliver frozen meals safe, the Meals-on-Wheels staff have transitioned to a contactless pick-up and delivery method. Volunteers now remain in their cars when they report to Senior Services to pick up their meals for delivery. Staff members load the frozen meal boxes directly into their cars. When volunteers deliver the meals, they ring the participant’s doorbell or call from a distance and place the meals outside the participant’s door, then wait at a safe distance to ensure the delivery is received. Volunteers are required to wear face masks during their routes and also to use hand sanitizer between each delivery.
“We all miss those hugs, but we can still see the smiling faces of seniors receiving their food,” said one Meals-on-Wheels volunteer. This contactless delivery will remain in effect as long as the pandemic and spread of coronavirus remains, even after we transition back to Monday through Friday, daily deliveries.
Senior Services hopes to renew their hot meal deliveries once it is safe to do so. When that happens, there will be an enormous need for new volunteers. “Even with our incredible existing volunteer force, who we know are ready to come back as soon as it is safe to do so, Senior Services currently has 153 route openings each month. We’ll need volunteers signed up to fill those openings before daily deliveries can resume, even if the pandemic ended tomorrow,” said Beck.
Senior Services has already begun recruiting volunteers in preparation for the time when older adults can once again count on warm smiles and hot meals delivered daily to their doors. Signing up now to volunteer will help the program plan for its reopening in the coming months.
If you are interested in becoming a Senior Services Meals-on-Wheels volunteer, please contact Holly Beck at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 336-721-3411. When it is safe to restart hot meal deliveries, they will be delivered Monday through Friday, between 10 a.m. and 12 noon. Routes generally take no more than 90 minutes and can be done once a week, once a month, or any frequency in-between that fits your schedule.
For more information and to get the latest on how Senior Services Meals-on-Wheels and other programs are adapting their operations to keep seniors, volunteers and staff safe during the pandemic, visit seniorservicesinc.org.