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Meals on Wheels strives through pandemic focusing on service and safety

KSN Digital Extra

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Meals and Wheels gives hundreds of seniors across Sedgwick County hot dinners, non-perishable foods, and a visit from a familiar face in times when they’re needed most. 

Even in the face of a worldwide pandemic, the essential program hasn’t slowed down. The program Executive Director, Laurel Alkire, says they’ve learned to adjust how they serve meals, but it’s been harder to make that connection many seniors look forward to. 

“When we get to the house, they bag the meal and the milk sack in a plastic bag, then tie it on the door and step back six feet,” Alkire said “Wait till we see the client comes to the door, they’re okay, and then they’re on to the next one. So it’s a lot different than standing at the door visiting, and that’s hard. That’s hard for the volunteers and the clients.”

The program serves upward of 800 seniors in Sedgwick County through the help of volunteers. Many of the older volunteers began to shy away in March amid stay-at-home orders. However, younger volunteers who would otherwise be working 9-to-5 stepped in to fill the gaps.

“Sedgwick County said you are essential. Without us, these people wouldn’t eat. So you have to continue service,” said the executive director. “We looked at our volunteer base, and a lot of the older ones step back, understandably. But there were a lot of teachers and other people that all of a sudden had plenty of time on their hands, so they stepped up to volunteer.”

As new volunteers began to assist, the program also had to make adjustments to how food is prepped and delivered. After March, volunteers were made to wait in their vehicle while other volunteers operated as runners, bringing the packed delivery containers to those in the parking lot three days a week to minimize traffic in the pick-up station.

Since, they’ve designed a system that allows three volunteers at a time inside to pick up a package of hot meals, a sack of milk and a package of non-perishable items for seniors while other volunteers cue outside. Meals on Wheels also makes sure to have volunteers wear masks inside the facility and when making deliveries, as well as wiping down food carriers in between deliveries.

The program, which has returned meal delivery to five days a week, says due to the pandemic items like beef, and some fresh vegetables have been harder to get through supply chains.

“You know beef is getting really expensive, not something that will probably be serving a lot of,” Alkire told KSN. “We have pretty strict dietary restrictions we have to follow, so much proteins and vegetables, fruits, calcium. We’ve been lucky in that. But there are a lot of things we can’t get. Vegetables are iffy. Some of the fruits are hard to get. It just depends.”

If you would like to donate or volunteer for the meals on wheels program contact Senior Services Inc of Wichita.

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