Meals on Wheels seeks volunteers as program returns to pre-COVID capacity

·3 min read

Jun. 11—The Gainesville-Hall County Meals on Wheels program is seeking more volunteers as it prepares to deliver hot meals again after the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the program's capabilities.

The program switched to serving sets of frozen meals once a week during the pandemic but will start serving hot meals again on weekdays starting on July 1. With more people vaccinated and COVID-19 case numbers continuing to decrease, the program is looking to ramp up, said Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of Gainesville-Hall County Community Services.

But the program needs more volunteers to be able to deliver five days a week again, because with current staffing they will only be able to serve hot meals Monday through Thursday and nonperishable food items to compensate, Meals on Wheels Coordinator Stepheine Hood said.

The program is looking for at least 70 more volunteers to serve more than 500 senior clients, which is more than they had to serve pre-pandemic. The program lost about 50 volunteers during the pandemic and currently has about 150 people ready for July.

And though 150 volunteers might sound like a lot, they must deliver at least four days a week along 38 routes throughout the county. Plus, they need some staff preparing meals in their kitchen.

When the pandemic began in March 2020, the program had to regroup and find different ways to serve people, Hood said. Many volunteers and most of the program's clients were in high-risk groups for COVID-19, and they were not going to be able to go door to door on a daily basis, Hood said. Their food supply was also affected during this time, and Brenau University stepped up to help out, she said.

They started calling their clients daily to keep up some social interaction with them, while they had to scale back food delivery to just once a week. For some clients, Meals on Wheels volunteers were the only people they interacted with all day. "A lot of our clients unfortunately don't have good family support, and that's what we are," Hood said.

Volunteers must have their own car, a valid driver's license and pass a background check in order to serve, Moss said. Volunteers are trained remotely through Zoom sessions that are held at 2 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month.

Volunteers can choose different tasks including running food to satellite drop off sites, driving meals door to door and helping prepare food in the Community Service Center. Drivers report to the Community Service Center or a designated satellite site 10:30-11:15 a.m. to pick up meals and begin delivering, according to the Meals on Wheels 2021 volunteer handbook. Kitchen staff work between 8:00-10:30 a.m. Drivers should finish their route no later than 12:30 p.m.

Drivers are given tablets with turn-by-turn instructions, Moss said, and there are different flexible scheduling options for volunteers. For example, some volunteers may only work twice a month or as much as multiple times per week. Routes are typically one hour so that people have the opportunity to volunteer during their lunch breaks, Moss said.

Delivering hot meals will be a huge improvement for the participating seniors, not just because the food might be more appetizing, but because they will get more person-to-person interaction. "We don't just serve a meal, we serve a smile, too," Moss said.

Volunteers will still be required to wear masks when they give out meals door to door, she said.

You may donate here through the Gainesville government website. A $20 donation will pay for a week of meals for one person.