Meals on Wheels in critical need of volunteers

Linda Branham, left in left photo, delivered hot meals to Ridgeway clients for years. She is shown here in 2018 delivering a meal to the late Rosalee Peay. Now the meals for Ridgeway clients are frozen and for safety reasons, must be delivered by staff. | Darlene Embleton

WINNSBORO – Prior to the pandemic, the Fairfield County Council on Aging had 85 – 95 volunteers delivering meals to 240 – 250 seniors every week. That’s now down to about 20 volunteers to deliver as many meals. And that’s not enough.

Due to the critical lack of volunteers, the Council on Aging now depends on staff and hired drivers to help deliver to the outlying routes, Angela Connor, executive director of Council on Aging, said.

“We desperately need more volunteers so we can make sure our clients get what they need,” she said. 

Connor said the drop in volunteers is primarily due to the pandemic which has affected deliveries in many ways.

Above, a Meals on Wheels volunteer delivers lunch to Alphonso Gladden, 64. | Darlene Embleton

”Many of our volunteers are older and at higher risk for COVID, so they necessarily need to protect themselves from exposure to COVID,” Connor said, “so we’ve lost a lot of those volunteers. And for the ones who have continued, we have to be very cautious. We no longer go into the homes like we used to. The client pretty much has to receive the meal at the door. We have porch conversations now instead of someone coming in and visiting in the living room,” she said.

“Many of the seniors are homebound and live alone, often in isolated areas, so they miss that in-home ‘visit’ that our volunteers used to provide. It’s not unusual for our volunteer to be the only person they see in a day,” Conner said. “This daily contact is a large component of what the program is all about.”

Good nutrition is still the key, though. The meals provided to the clients are nutritionally balanced to meet the 1/3 recommended daily allowance (RDI) for seniors.

The meals and the visits improve the quality of life for these older adults by providing them with services that allow them to remain independent and in their own homes for as long as possible.

The volunteers deliver both hot and frozen meals, depending on the location of the recipients.

“Strict regulations regarding food safety temperatures determine where the hot meals can be delivered,” Connor said. “We have to service clients in outlying areas with frozen meals one day a week. Those meals are delivered in packs of five on Mondays to last the week. The hot meals are delivered closer in, five days a week. We currently have a total of 5 hot meal routes that go out in the Winnsboro area and 10 frozen meal routes that go out in the Ridgeway, Lebanon and areas further out,” Connor said.

“Because those clients who receive frozen meals live so far out and only get one visit a week, we try to call them at least once a day just to reassure them that some cares about them and is checking on them,” Connor said. “Isolation is huge for them. It means a lot to them to just hear from us, even if it’s just a phone call. For some of them, our phone calls are the only ones they receive some weeks.”

Winnsboro area routes typically take just 45 minutes to an hour to complete.  The outlying areas can take two to three hours because of the distance. The staff delivers to those routes. 

The food is distributed out of the Winnsboro Senior Center at 210 E Washington Street.

“Volunteers can deliver as often as they like or as little as they can,” Connor explained.  “We know that everyone’s time is stretched thin these days, therefore we have availability for volunteering from one hour a month to one hour a day.  We work with each volunteer to help make their schedule as suitable as possible.“

Since July 1, the volunteers and staff delivered almost 40K meals and close to 70K meals in all of 2020.

“Delivering these meals is a very rewarding experience. Helping seniors be able to stay in their own home for as long as possible is a wonderful way to give back to others in our community.

The home-delivered meals program receives funding from a number of sources – the federal government, the state, Fairfield County as well as private donors and during COVID, Connor has been able to get several grants from private foundations to cover the meals.  Participants who receive meals may also donate toward the cost of their own meals, but it is not required. All contributions received through the home delivered meals program remain in the program and are used to sustain it.

Volunteers need to be at least 18 years of age and have their own transportation. Those who would like more information about volunteering to serve the meals, can contact Connor at 803-635-3015.

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