Good things cooking: Virus can’t slow down Meals on Wheels

Meals on Wheels volunteers make sure everything is packed and ready to go before having the meals delivered for Kent County’s senior residents. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — Even though the Modern Maturity Center in Dover was forced to close its doors to the public due to Gov. John Carney’s state of emergency declaration in response to the COVID-19 epidemic in mid-March, the place has remained a bustling hub of activity, with vehicles rolling in and out of the parking lot and the smell of home-cooked meals wafting from the kitchen.

While the resource programs and activities normally scheduled at the facility have subsided over the past month, Meals on Wheels has expanded on the services that it offers Kent County’s senior and homebound population.

Carolyn Fredricks, president and CEO, of the Modern Maturity Center, said the organization recently teamed up with the Brandywine Valley SPCA for pet food delivery for its Meals on Wheels recipients, is currently making wellness checks of its clientele by phone, and is also in the process of getting a shopping program up and running for seniors.

Plus, all these changes are coming in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak in which Meals for Wheels staff and volunteers are having to adapt to adhering to the Delaware Division of Public Health’s safety guidelines.

A Meals on Wheels runner drops off a meal for a senior resident in Kent County. Despite the COVID-19 outbreak, Meals on Wheels has been as busy as ever. (Submitted photo)

“From the beginning we have worked hard to make sure that all of the state (safety) guidelines are followed,” Ms. Fredricks said. “Social distancing, hand sanitizing, masks, gloves and daily temperature checks are just something that happens every day here at the center. At first, I think they thought it was a little overkill, but now they all realize this really is a crisis and we are doing what we need to do to keep everyone safe.”

And while Ms. Fredricks certainly tips her hat to all those other “essential” folks working through the pandemic, she knows who her own personal heroes are, calling the Meals on Wheels staff and volunteers, “Amazing!”

“There has been so much information about the heroes of this (COVID-19) crisis,” Ms. Fredricks said. “I will be the first to admit the doctors, nurses, EMTs, truck drivers, those who work at grocery stores stocking shelves, and all essential workers have certainly showed the nation and our community their selflessness and steadfastness to keep this community healthy and, in fact, eating.

“Since the middle of March, under the direction of the governor, MMC shut our doors, but we were instructed to continue feeding those who needed a meal. Since we are considered essential all our staff have continued to work. Many of them are doing other jobs right now, but all are here to provide services to the older adults of the community.”

Ms. Fredricks said the kitchen staff has been preparing between 2,500 and 2,700 meals per day, some of which are delivered as hot meals while others are to be frozen for weekend and emergency meals.

Then there is the army of around 100 volunteer drivers who deliver the meals all over Kent County. The food is prepared at the MMC and while a lot of the meals are delivered from there, meals are also sent out to the Milford Senior Center, Harrington Senior Center, Mamie Warren Senior Center, Luther Towers and Peach Circle.

“That’s a lot of cooking,” said Ms. Fredricks. “The staff has been here every day. Would they rather be home during this very scary time? I’m sure, but they are here, cooking for the clients who are counting on MMC.

“Plus, it takes a lot of volunteers to deliver all those meals — what devotion. We have a core group of volunteers who help us on a very regular basis and during this time we have many new volunteers who walk in and want to help. Right now, our oldest volunteer is 92 and our youngest, a member of the Green Beret Project, is 10. It touches my heart to see all these wonderful volunteers come in to help MMC feed the people.”

She also recognized people who have made and donated masks, hand sanitizer and wipes, and those who have even donated money because they are unable to come in to help.

Different world, new programs

While COVID-19 has changed some of the rules for Meals on Wheels, the nonprofit organization appears to still be running along smoothly.

Cate Lyons, vice president of marketing and development for the MMC, said even the simplest things such as knocking on the door of a senior and delivering a meal has undergone changes in the name of safety and trying to stop the spread of the virus.

Ms. Lyons said everyone must have their temperature taken and answer a health survey before working each day. They also wear face masks and gloves and maintain social distancing while working and loading the meals into packaging and vehicles.

“Our volunteers assemble the meals for their routes at separate stations, which are cleaned and disinfected every night,” she said. “When they deliver, the meal is placed in a single-use bag, left on the door (each route has a driver and a runner who takes the meal to the door). The volunteer steps back six feet while the meal is retrieved by the client. When the volunteers return, all thermal bags and coolers are disinfected.”

The success of the delivery program, along with some of the changes made in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic, have allowed Meals on Wheels to expand its services.

In fact, most of the “wellness calls” are being made by the MMC’s bus drivers, who are currently stalled right now with the center closing.

“The grocery program is just getting started,” Ms. Lyons said. “When we make the wellness calls – which we have been doing for two weeks now – we are trying to find out if there are any other needs, such as shopping. Most said they were fine last week but may need shopping help going forward.

“We will be taking the orders from them and doing the shopping, which will be delivered to their home. The clients can pay the driver when the food is delivered either with cash or a credit card. They can call us for shopping assistance at 302-734-1200, extension 136.”

Plus, those wellness calls often go far beyond just checking up and seeing if an elderly person needs groceries.

“Most just want to talk,” said Ms. Lyons. “And that’s what we do. Just visit with them a while and find out if there is anything they need, so we can work at getting them connected with the right services. The personal contact and emotional connection with them is just as important – if not more than – the food.”

Then there is the pet food program that made its debut last week that, combined with the Brandywine Valley SPCA, launched with the delivery of 1,330 pounds of pet food to families in Kent County.

“We delivered food to about 40 Meals on Wheels clients,” said Ms. Lyons. “The SPCA wants this to be an on-going partnership. The clients were supplied with a month of food, so we will be getting some more names together for next month.”

Adam Lamb, CEO of the BVSPCA, said it appears to be a perfect partnership.

“Now more than ever, it’s imperative that we find as many avenues as possible to reach pet families in need,” Mr. Lamb said. “We’re grateful to the kind folks at Meals on Wheels for recognizing pets as an important part of the families they serve.”

Any volunteers?

With so much taking place at the MMC — even though it is technically ‘closed’ — and the Meals on Wheels program, Ms. Lyons said they are always looking for volunteers to help in any way that they can.

“Right now, we are redeploying staff to our nutrition program that normally have duties in other departments that are closed,” she said. “We have an awesome team of volunteers, although some are not (currently) able to participate because they themselves are high-risk for contracting the virus. According to our Meals on Wheels volunteer coordinator — Trudie Clay — we have about 100 volunteers, but we are going to need more because the demand is growing daily for home-delivered meals, so the current delivery routes are getting longer.

“We have added new clients every day – including all of adult day care and early memory loss clients who were getting their meals at the MMC when they were participating in our programs. They now are restricted at home, so we are delivering meals to them. We have also been tasked to deliver meals to homeless shelters and provide grab-and-go meals for those clients who normally come to the MMC for lunch.”

Ms. Lyons said they need volunteers to deliver boxes of shelf stable meals. The Division of Services for Aging and Adults with Physical Disabilities directed them to purchase and distribute five additional shelf stable meals to each client. Because this delivery would be more taxing on the volunteers that are currently delivery the homebound meals, it is going to be done as a separate distribution.

Volunteers must be screened, so it’s not a walk-in and help situation, but they can call Trudie Clay at 302-734-1200, extension 119 to volunteer. The volunteer form is also available on the MMC’s website at www.modern-maturity.org.

One thing is for sure, Ms. Fredricks never envisioned the expansion of services, especially during the middle of a state of emergency order and a national health crisis.

“I did not envision this, but I think it is going to be the new normal,” said Ms. Fredricks. “Our partnership with the Brandywine SPCA is wonderful and certainly helps us to provide for an unmet need for our clients. Grocery shopping for those who need it and well checks by phone are important new services that I feel provide not only necessary groceries, but also peace of mind knowing that someone cares about them and is checking to make sure they are OK.

“This is so valuable for those who live alone.”


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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