Helping Us to Help Those Who Can’t Help Themselves.
In early March as we became aware of the potential pandemic and the unknown future we all face, we wanted to make sure that all of our clients had food in their home pantry to sustain them for at least 2 weeks should our supply chain break down or if we found it necessary to suspend service.
We learned that 23 of our 110 clients had virtually no food on hand for longer than 3 or 4 days. Nor did they have the income to purchase 2 weeks of food in advance. Step 1: $2000 of our budget was allocated for these clients groceries @ $75/each. Our volunteers did the shopping and delivered the food to the clients, which helped us to reach some food security for the time being. Step 2: On March 31st our daily hot meal program was set aside and we reduced our 5-day deliveries to just one day each week.
We switched to 5 frozen meals for the week and extras, plus a Foodbank Relief box of shelf stable commodities. This change of procedure also allowed us to furlough 60 of our 88 senior volunteers (in their 70, 80s and 90s) to self-quarantine, and to rely upon 20 strong, younger volunteers to work once a week. Each Tuesday six volunteers join our kitchen supervisor to assemble bags to be delivered along with frozen meals and shelf-stable boxes. We add fresh fruit, milk, juices, bread/butter, and more to each package for our 115 clients.
We have reduced route size in order to reduce amount of exposure for the active volunteers so that routes now serve 5-7 clients, instead of 11 or 12 as before. Each volunteer is given latex gloves and a mask for the day, which are replaced every Tuesday. Hand sanitizer is also available. The very large room which serves as our pick up station is spaced so that volunteers remain 6 feet or more apart. Some volunteers pick up their bags at a “drive-in” point, without ever coming inside our building.
The volunteers quarantined at home were each provided with their old route sheets and encouraged to call their long-time clients to offer words of support, observe their emotional status and report to the client’s emergency contact or to our officers, if a client was found to be particularly upset or needed extra help. Social workers in our area (and those working for our partners) allow us to refer clients if we are particularly concerned. The phone calls seem to benefit both our clients and volunteers.
Our volunteers have also added foods such as homemade cookies, Easter goodies, greeting cards, and more to raise client spirits during this lonely time. Although we have lost 5 clients who moved in with family and 2 who have recently passed away, we have increased our roster by 15 in April alone. Most are low income seniors who have self-quarantined with little support from family or friends. Each received the $75 of purchased groceries from their personal lists, and are now receiving our meal package weekly.
Our excellent relationship with University Hospitals–Bedford Medical Center continues to provide 10 of our clients diabetic, renal, chemo, and other special diets. They also act as a supplier for low cost milk, butter, syrup and other condiments.
To date we have not turned down any clients who live within our coverage area, regardless of ability to pay or age. Should we have to begin prioritizing, we would ask our social workers to assess each situation and add persons based upon their health, abilities to care for oneself, and needs, leaving those with family support and assistance last.
Nevertheless in the last few years, we have been growing at a rate of 10-15% per year; and almost that rate this March and April alone (14%). We anticipate the need for our service to increase by 20% by the end of the year with little additional monies available through Title 3.
For over 40 years our Meals on Wheels program has been able to cope with rising and falling economies, but this epidemic is like nothing we’ve experienced before. Most of our operating income comes from fundraising activities: (Bedford Historical Society’s Strawberry Festival, The Rotary’s Rib Burnoff, Mayor’s Taste of Bedford, church auctions and church service donations) all of which have been postponed or cancelled. These missing funds will make a tremendous difference in our ability to subsidize our low-income seniors’ meal cost. Without financial assistance, we anticipate a loss for the year of $15-$20,000, a breath away from closing our doors.