A hot meal and a kind smile can make a person’s day. No one knows that better than the Meals on Wheels volunteers who deliver food to home-bound residents in Hampton Roads. “Delivering meals adds meaning to the day,” said Linda Frye, 75, who delivers meals in Chesapeake with her husband, Alex, 78. “It reminds us we are all connected.”
Meals on Wheels encourages better nutrition so seniors can maintain the good health they need to stay at home. Generally, participants are unable to shop for groceries and fix their own meals. Some agencies also help younger clients who are disabled or very ill.
Participants are usually asked to pay for their meals, but not all can afford to. In 2020, 15 percent of Virginia’s seniors were marginally food insecure, according to Meals on Wheels America. Meals on Wheels started in 1954, when a small group of Philadelphia citizens decided to help a few seniors live independently and healthy. Today MOW assists 2.4 million seniors annually.
Here’s a look at three local Meals on Wheels programs.
Chesapeake Homeschool Family Helps Out
More Donors and Delivery Drivers Needed
In Chesapeake, Megan Mann began delivering meals as a child with her grandmother during summer. “I called Meals on Wheels Chesapeake the year after [my grandmother] passed because I wanted to honor her memory and teach my kids that service is fun and rewarding, just like she did with me,” said Megan, 41.
The need for more meals and volunteers keeps growing in Chesapeake. In 2020-21, almost 58,000 meals were delivered to 230 participants. This year, MOW expects to serve about 67,000 meals to 270 people, thanks to 200 volunteers covering 14 routes. Hot meals include an entrée, one or two sides and dinner roll; the cold meal is a salad, dessert, sandwich fixings, fruit, juice, and milk.
Mary Lenore Reyes and her two children, Lana, 9, and Liam, 7, are among those helping hands. As members of the Chesapeake Homeschool Group, they began delivering meals two years ago, and now they can’t imagine not helping out.
“We intentionally want Lana and Liam to have many memories of helping, caring, and serving others as they grow up,” Mary said. “Lana and Liam have developed a bigger heart toward the elderly in general since their grandparents are living overseas.”
Lana and Liam, who always wear sunshine yellow when they deliver meals, look forward to these outings. “Seeing people smile and making them feel loved and cared for” is important, Lana said. Delivering meals is “fun and we meet new people and see new places,” added Liam.
Since 2018, busy mom Tiffany Connor has found time to deliver meals with help from her kids, Riley and Raegan, six and five. “My kids love to help me, and I like the joy in them when they fuss about who is going to deliver meals to the next house,” Tiffany said.
While delivering in Chesapeake, Alex and Linda Frye take a couple extra minutes to chat and check on customers who may not have any other human contact that day.
“A route usually takes very little time, so it’s not much of a burden for even a very busy person,” Linda said.
Chesapeake Meals on Wheels will soon become a vendor for its area agency on aging, which will mean more meals will be needed, Megan said. That also means more donors and delivery volunteers will be needed.
Donate and learn about volunteering at mealsonwheelschesapeake.com.
Peninsula Agency on Aging:
An Increased Need During the Pandemic
The Peninsula Agency on Aging coordinates Meals on Wheels for Newport News and Hampton, where the pandemic has prompted more senior citizens to safely isolate themselves at home.
This means more seniors need more help with meals. Currently, there are about 10,000 meals going out in Hampton and Newport News monthly. That’s a daily increase of about 680 meals, said Gerald Patesel, PAA’s vice president for community services, and the numbers are expected to go up even more.
Federal, state, and local funds mostly pay for the program, which is open to anyone homebound, unable to prepare meals, or 60 and older. Emergency federal money has helped meet increased needs during the pandemic, he added. “Our volunteers have been outstanding during the past 18 months,” he said. “We have always received great support from Langley Air Force Base.”
John Krulis, 79, is one of those dedicated volunteers who loves what he does. When you deliver Meals on Wheels, you “make a difference in someone’s life and you meet new, diverse people,” John said. “Lots of people say ‘thank you’ but when Meals on Wheels folks say it, you know they really mean it.”
Martha and Jerry Dodson, 72 and 73, regularly volunteer in assisted-living facilities, but Meals on Wheels is extra special to them. “I love the people on my delivery route,” said Martha. “It’s a blessing you can’t replace.”
The PAA Meals on Wheels program belongs to the volunteers, Gerald emphasized. It’s growing because so many care. “Our volunteers come out every day, in all kinds of weather, and even during the pandemic to ensure seniors in the community get the service they need to continue living at home,” Gerald said.
“We want to grow our service so no senior goes hungry,” he continued, “and, just as important, gets a daily visit and safety check from a dedicated volunteer.”
PAA welcomes donations, and volunteers can do as much or as little as they want. Learn more at paainc.org/nutrition-services.
Feeding Aging Veterans
Va. Beach MOW Seeks Donations
When seniors can live independently at home and get nutritious meals delivered to their front door, it’s a win-win for everyone, said Vicki Rader, president of the board for Meals on Wheels Virginia Beach. “This in turn improves quality of life,” she said.
Vicki grew up knowing the importance of Meals on Wheels because her father was among the small group that started the effort in 1974. Virginia Beach is a grass-roots, non-profit that does not accept any government funding, meaning local donations and grants are vital to the organization, which currently feeds about 110 city residents Monday through Friday.
“We really need funding,” Vicki said. “Added Covid expenses have hit the budget hard. The cost of our supplies alone has more than doubled.”
Meals include a hot meal plus a bag meal with a chicken or tuna salad or Boar’s Head meat sandwich on healthy grain bread, prepared salad, fruit, and dessert. Clients are asked to pay for all or part of their meals, but no one is denied service if they can’t afford the service.
“We feed a lot of veterans,” Vicki added. “There are a lot of aging veterans here. Some of our clients may not even have stoves or microwaves, especially people with dementia. Some have caregivers who can heat the meals, but not all do.”
Like the Peninsula and Chesapeake, Virginia Beach volunteers have done their 30- to 60-minute routes throughout Covid, making sure seniors are not left hungry or lonely, even though smiling faces are now seen through windows and meals are hung on the front door.
“We used to check the fridge to see if they were eating their meals,” Vicki said. “The human contact that is missed now is a real shame.”
Donations can be made at mealsonwheelsvb.org.