When Charlotte Apo, 84, hears a knock on her door around lunchtime every Wednesday, she knows a familiar face is on the other side.
“The Meal on Wheels is here,” Barbara Wiggins exclaimed, holding a brown bag filled with pork loin and corn. “We got your favorite coconut rice. Hot and ready for you. ”
The steel door of the La Verne mobile park house flew open to reveal Apo’s grinning face. She offered Wiggins, 60, a seat inside which was graciously turned down. There were 15 more deliveries that afternoon, Wiggins noted.
“Always a good time to see you, Miss Apo,” said Wiggins, checking her name in the delivery log. “I’ll see you next week as usual.”
As president of La Verne/San Dimas Meals on Wheels for 18 years, Wiggins has forged countless relationships with clients like Apo, becoming a welcome presence for those who sometimes live alone. . It’s a role she wouldn’t trade for the world, says Wiggins.
But I like many non-profit organizations, Wiggin’s small volunteer-run organization changed by Coronavirus Disease. A combination of factors – decade-high inflation, labor shortages, thin budgets – has affected day-to-day operations, she said.
The group, along with other nearby Meals on Wheels chapters, had to adjust as volunteers, especially delivery drivers, became a hot commodity.
Once outfitted with a roster of about 75 volunteers, says Wiggins, Meals on Wheels in La Verne/San Dimas now have just under 50 helpers. Many of those leaving are longtime delivery drivers, while others are self-sufficient volunteer couples.
The drop in volunteers has forced Wiggins and others to get on with their lives as meal delivery is desperately needed as elderly and vulnerable groups choose to stay indoors due to the pandemic.
What caused the drop in the number of people available? Christine Edwards, vice president of La Verne/San Dimas Meals On Wheels, said the reasons were different but all attributed to the pandemic. A large portion of the organization’s volunteer force is high-risk people, she said, prompting many of them to leave.
Replacing those volunteers has proven to be a significant challenge.
“So when COVID hit, I mean, we had half of the volunteers quit and they never came back,” Edwards said. “We haven’t been the same since, but someone has to deliver these meals, right?”
‘People still want their food’
The group has been serving the cities of La Verne and San Dimas since 2003, providing nutritious meals five days a week to people who live alone, cannot cook, or have dietary restrictions. Meals are prepared hot and fresh at Hillcrest Kitchens in La Verne with customers paying $5 a plate.
In recent weeks, there have been five routes with about 70 meals provided each day, down from 100 before the pandemic, according to organizers. But even with meals down, getting them out to everyone isn’t easier.
What was once a regular hour of volunteer time can now stretch to two or three hours due to a lack of drivers and ready hands to pack food. People also don’t want to carpool with strangers due to concerns about COVID-19, which makes the delivery process longer, Edwards said.
“We had to change most of our operations. Now we pack food outside and we rely on fewer and fewer people,” Edwards said, noting that volunteers have been complaining of illness in recent months. “It’s hard but people still want their food.”
In Meal on Pomona WheelsOperational changes have also been made, said director Allen Espinosa. The group no longer relies solely on volunteers. These days, Doordash makes deliveries.
In partnership with Goodwill, the Pomona chapter has contracted the food delivery app to make regular stops throughout the Pomona Valley, a move that was made with great caution to help with deliveries during the COVID outbreak. -19.
“We are all very productive so no one has to miss a meal,” says Espinosa. “Like anything else, we have to change over time.”
In Shepard’s Pantry, a local food delivery service similar to Meals on Wheels, serving the cities of Glendora and Irwindale, demand has leveled off since the early days of the pandemic, chief executive Joanna Hirasuna said.
Much of its volunteer force consists of young people, coming from the older group that helped before March 2020. Hirasuna says that could be due to a change in habits and routines caused by caused by the pandemic.
“It has been bittersweet to see so many of our older volunteers leave but with more young people going home now, they have stepped up to help keep this going,” said Hirasuna. “What a blessing to be camouflaged.”
While the drop in volunteers is not too severe for Riverside meals on wheels, it still runs a “skeletal volunteer group,” said volunteer and board member John Welsh. He credits the group of loyalists who have continued to service 14 routes throughout the county.
With gas prices rising in the area, Welsh said it’s not surprising that fewer people volunteer.
“You’re asking someone for their time and gas money, which is a tough sell these days,” Welsh said. “Our phones don’t exactly ring the volunteers, but we make it work.”
A national trend
Jenny Young, vice president of communications at Meal on American Wheels. For nearly two years, local organizations around the country have noticed an unprecedented need for services as the number of volunteers has dwindled, she said.
According to Meals on Wheels America, 88% of local shows say their operating costs have increased during the pandemic. Additionally, as of July 2021, programs are still serving 57% more meals on average than before the pandemic.
“Programs still see high demand but as we’ve seen with almost everything else, operating costs have also gone up,” Young said.
What’s more, nearly half of all Meals on Wheels programs nationwide cannot continue to serve customers without expanded funding, according to the national organization.
However, there have been several attempts to help struggling chapters. Meals on Wheels America grossed $25 million for local shows in 2020, with some vendors receiving up to $100,000. This money is used to replenish food and supplies, subsidize transportation, and offset staffing costs.
However, that financial support did not fully solve the human resource problems.
“Prior to COVID, three-quarters of the volunteers were 55 or older and were themselves at high risk (for COVID-19) and as a result, they did not want to go door to door,” Young said. “We’ve seen a shift that may not be the way it was before.”
This is the reality that volunteers like Wiggins say they have come to accept.
While the job won’t be easier, Wiggins said, when someone opens the door to receive goods, the reward is just as meaningful. She says the relationships she has with clients like Apo make a few hours of her day worthwhile.
“You can’t help but choke a little when you find out a client has passed away or when they move out,” says Wiggins. “They really make it worth it.”
Wiggins says another change is coming soon. The La Verne/San Dimas team will finally have its own website after years of working mainly through word of mouth and other means. She hopes the new location will bring in more donations to support the program and possibly more volunteers.
https://www.sbsun.com/2022/01/07/meals-on-wheels-adjusts-to-keep-up-deliveries-despite-drop-in-volunteers/ Meals on Wheels adjust to keep up with delivery times despite reduced volunteer numbers – San Bernardino Sun