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Meals on Wheels Finds Ways to Roll on Despite Trying Times

by and on March 30, 2020 5:30 AM

How do you deliver meals to people who cannot go out of their homes, when the government is saying that nobody should be leaving their homes? This is the challenge for State College Area Meals on Wheels.

Meals on Wheels is a nonprofit organization that prepares and delivers nutritious, affordable meals to the elderly and disabled living within the State College School District to help maintain their quality of life and allow them to remain in their own homes. Doing this important work has been all the more difficult with the concerns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing is a must, and the team of staff and volunteers is stepping up to make sure that the 150 people who depend on the service have the food they need.

For the past few weeks, volunteers have been dropping off meals by practicing social distancing, leaving meals hanging from bags on doorknobs, stepping back at least 6 feet after ringing the door bell and using hand sanitizer before and after dropping the meals off, said State College Area Meals on Wheels Executive Director Suelynn Shiller. Volunteers also have been wiping off any surface before they touch it.

Starting the week of March 23, the service now delivers once a week with enough food for five lunches instead of delivering daily. This helps cut back on personal contact, keeping both the clients and the volunteers safe.

“For everyone safety we are trying to keep our personal contact very limited,” said Shiller. “So we have had to learn how to feed 150 people a week with fewer hands. It is a challenge. We did it this week. We learned where we had excess people and where we can bring it down to accomplish everything that we need to.”

Another challenge has been acquiring food, with shelves on supermarkets all picked over.

“I have never walked into a grocery store and not been able to purchase what I need,” said Shiller. “So unfortunately, in the emergency plan, we did not have that built in.”

This made things difficult when working to provide a week’s worth of food for 150 people in need. But they made it work.

“We did provide a bag of groceries to everyone with the equivalent of five lunches, “said Shiller. “Is it the grocery bag I am aspiring to? No, but everybody got proteins, vegetables, packaged fruit and we will get better.”

She said they have reached out to grocery stores and “should be able to really improve the quality of what we are offering in those bags.” It is all a work in progress.

Only being able to deliver once a week and having limited contact with clients has been a big challenge for “an organization that is based on checking in with your neighbors,” said Shiller.

So, they are finding a new way to connect — by the phone. Many volunteers for the program are themselves within the age range that is considered at risk, so those volunteers are going to begin calling clients through the week to check in on them.

Meals for the program are based on a sliding scale and are delivered to homebound individuals who fall within the following categories: the frail and elderly, those convalescing from surgery or illness and those chronically and/or emotionally ill.

Eligibility is not restricted by age. Clients include, but are not limited to, those with Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, heart problems, schizophrenia, kidney dialysis, high blood pressure and those recuperating from surgery.

Meal delivery may range from a few days to an ongoing basis. The nonprofit program is always is in need of hand sanitizer and donations can be dropped off at Grace Lutheran Church, 205 S. Garner St. Donations can be made online or by mailing a check to State College Area Meals on Wheels, P.O. Box 1235, State College, PA 16804.

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Vincent Corso is writer for Town&Gown and the Centre County Gazette.
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