Meals On Wheels: Feeding Rochester’s most vulnerable

Meals On Wheels

Meals On Wheels: Feeding Rochester’s most vulnerable

man in mask holding a box of food on his way to a UR Home Care van

A Meals On Wheels volunteer prepares for deliveries

Chicken with teriyaki sauce, barley risotto, vegetables, and a brownie—that’s one of the meals that nearly 1,000 volunteers will deliver this week through Meals On Wheels, a UR Medicine Home Care program. Each day, volunteers deliver nutritious food and provide daily check-ins to Rochester’s most vulnerable: the elderly and the home-bound.

“We are seeing such a dramatic increase in need,” says Margaret Schweizer, Director for Meals On Wheels in Monroe County. Last week, about 800 were enrolled in the program. By Friday, that number increased to nearly 1,000. “We really need the community’s support, now more than ever,” Schweizer adds. “We need more donations—so we can get the food we need—and we need more volunteers.”

Meals On Wheels is responding to the pandemic in many ways. Volunteers are given masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer as well as social distancing guidelines and weekly volunteer updates. Also, in addition to daily hot meals, the program now offers weekly frozen meal packages to some recipients.

The program is serving a broader group of people now, too, most of whom are elderly and don’t have family or anyone nearby who can help them. “These people are alone,” adds Schweizer. “Their age and health conditions put them at greater risk and they are reaching out to us for help.”

Many of the program’s longtime volunteers are retirees who have had to take a step back due to their age. “Although they want to help, they can’t,” she says. “Fortunately, we are seeing an uptick in younger people raising their hands to volunteer—it’s heartening to see.”

Rob Cunningham, 44, has been a Meals On Wheels volunteer for about five years. Until recently, he was delivering meals twice a month. “Now that I’m home, I’m making up to 10 deliveries a day,” he says. “I wish I could do more, but I’m glad I can do something.”

Meals On Wheels has been a family affair for the Cunninghams. Rob’s wife, Julie, works at the program and his parents, who are in their late 60s, have been longtime volunteers. The pandemic has changed a lot for them.

“My parents can no longer volunteer,” he says. “My 95-year-old grandparents—who have been Meals On Wheels recipients for years and still are—moved in with them last year. Since they are at increased risk, everyone is staying at home. The pandemic has made it very clear that we all need to support each other right now—in our families and across our community.”

Visit the Meals On Wheels website to learn more. Make an online donation here.

Kristine Thompson, April 2020

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