LONGMONT, Colo. – The snow in Northern Colorado can't hold Meals on Wheels back because the work is essential and only happens one day per week. Volunteers Rick and Maryanne Himmelsbach say they’re willing to do whatever it takes to help those in need.
“Meals on Wheels has done a really great job at changing things up a little bit,” said Rick.
“It’s impressively organized,” Maryanne added.
Meals on Wheels operates in virtually every community in the U.S. to address senior hunger and isolation. Taking care of a vulnerable population, it’s a service that can’t stop – even during a pandemic.
“Even if there were to be an outbreak in our kitchen staff and we would need to send our kitchen staff home, we need to have a model so that we could still maintain meal service,” Meals on Wheels Communication Director Katie Wiser said.
So, they’ve adapted to the social distancing guidelines. To limit contact between volunteers, administration staff is now filling each volunteer’s vehicle with the meals. And when the volunteers drop the meals off, Meals on Wheels Communication Director Katie Wiser says they’re directed to put them in a cooler outside the recipient’s front door.
“If they put out a cooler and put an ice pack in it, that’s their signal to us that they’re ok and we don’t need to do a wellness check on them,” said Wiser.
The delivery schedule has changed too.
“Instead of delivering daily, Monday through Friday, they’ve moved to a system where they deliver once a week on Mondays – five frozen meals,” Himmelsbach said.
In order to make that happen, local restaurants have gotten involved.
“We are doing everything we can to keep our staff employed, working, having fun, still being a part of the community as much as possible,” Longmont Texas Roadhouse owner Shannon Roche said.
Shannon and Sarah Roche manage the Texas Roadhouse. Every week – wearing masks, gloves and glasses – a group of their employees form an assembly line and package 500 meals to be frozen and stockpiled for delivery.
“Chicken, barbecue pulled pork, pork chops, and sirloins. We’ve been doing those as our proteins,” Roche said.
Then they add a mix of veggies on the side. The Roche’s were the ones to reach out to Meals on Wheels to see how they could help, but the idea has branched out nationwide. Shannon says Texas Roadhouse restaurants in six other states are following their lead to provide meals.
“It’s about family, it’s about bringing the community together as much as possible while still being safe and social distancing,” Roche said.
Knowing it’s necessary, most Meals on Wheels clients are not in love with the idea of social distancing because they are hungry for more than just food. Many clients crave the social interaction that comes with Meals on Wheels. Since they aren’t getting daily attention in-person, the organization has started tele-wellness checks.
“We did ask them we said ‘do you have family calling and checking in on you on a regular basis because if you do we can stop calling and almost all the clients say ‘yes I do, but please still keep calling’. They’re really lonely right now and they’re very scared,” Wiser said.
The Himmelsbachs say they miss spending so much time with their clients. However, they feel blessed they can continue to serve them nutritionally. Other older volunteers have opted out for now, but the Himmelsbachs say they’re not concerned for their own health. They just want to make sure to follow all precautions for the sake of their clients.
“So many of them aren’t able to get out and go to a grocery store. Especially at a time like this, they would be in a high-risk population.”
Clearly that care and concern goes both ways.
“You should have something on your head because it’s cold outside,” one of the clients said.
The Himmelsbach say they hopesthis “new normal” will be over soon, but until then, the couple will be ready to make their rounds every Monday.