Hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic are the country's roughly 5,000 Meals on Wheels programs that deliver or serve meals to about 2.4 million older Americans each year. Officials at Meals on Wheels are grappling with twin challenges: an influx of older adults who are self-isolating due to the outbreak; and far fewer helping hands, since volunteers fear catching the virus that causes COVID-19.
Consider Florida's Volusia County, a retirement haven and home to Daytona Beach. About 1,000 older adults each week are served lunch at its seven so-called congregate dining programs, all of which have been closed as of March 16, says Penny Young-Carrasquillo of the Council on Aging of Volusia County. The facilities temporarily were shuttered on the advice of state and federal officials, she says.
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One of the lunchgoers is a 104-year-old man, Young-Carrasquillo says. Attendees either drive or are driven to the lunches. Donations are sought for the meals, but nobody who can't chip in is turned away.
Separately, Volusia County has a Meals on Wheels food-delivery program that last year handed out more than 178,000 meals to older adults, some extremely frail. Now, arrangements are being made for people to pick up food at drive-through sites, providing they have transportation. Additional in-home deliveries are slated for those who are unable to fetch the “grab-and-go” meals.
Young-Carrasquillo says a $50 internet donation just came in with a message: “I want to support Meals on Wheels as they provide food for seniors during this scary time of COVID-19.” She shared the note with colleagues, saying: “It almost made us cry.” Soon she'll make a public appeal for contributions.
AARP, Major League Baseball make big donations
Others, in fact, are stepping up to the plate. On Monday, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association gave $500,000 to Meals on Wheels America. The two organizations gave another $500,000 to Feeding America, which supports food banks.
On Tuesday, AARP announced a $250,000 contribution to Meals on Wheels America to help provide in-home meals to the most at-risk population.