When Meals on Wheels volunteers visit seniors during their rounds, they supply more than just food. As the pandemic has worn on, many recipients who were already living alone have become increasingly isolated, with few opportunities for outside socialization. The (socially distanced) moments when drivers pause to chat once the food is delivered provide a welcome chance for interaction.
They also serve to keep Senior Services for South Sound connected with their constituents. “If the drivers notice any changes in someone’s health or behavior, they come back and tell our staff,” says Executive Director Brian Windrope. “We follow up with the appropriate agency, depending on who might be involved in the caregiving for that senior.”
When the pandemic began, the number of seniors needing meals doubled as revenues simultaneously plummeted. Chris Wells, Executive Director of United Way of Thurston County, contacted Windrope to make sure Senior Services could continue offering the program. “United Way stepped up to find out what we needed in order to not have any interruption of meal service,” says Windrope. “We were closed, and our revenues were down, so United Way made sure they filled that gap.”
It’s no exaggeration to say that those meals have saved lives. In some cases, they are the only food seniors have during the week. All meals are designed by a dietician and the staff ensures that beyond being nutritious, they are also varied. Demand has remained steady, according to Windrope. “We’re not seeing our Meals on Wheels numbers go down,” he notes. “They’re hovering around more than double what they were before the pandemic because our senior centers are not open yet for people to come in and get hot, fresh food.”
Meals on Wheels is just one of the Senior Services programs that United Way has helped make possible in the past year. They’ve also provided direct financial support for Do You Know a Senior in Need?, a program that helps identify seniors in Thurston and Mason counties who need help with grocery shopping, picking up prescriptions and other critical services.
As critical as economic backing for Senior Services has been, the spirit of collaboration is equally important. “It’s knowing that we’re there for each other,” says Windrope. “I have found the strength of the community here in Thurston County to be superb. That’s exemplified by United Way, and it’s a credit to our community that we’ve pulled together as effectively as we have to meet the needs of seniors in these times.”