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A Driving Force

Meals On Wheels Works Hard During Pandemic

Volunteers help to deliver meals to the local area. Pictured holding cooler are Michael Bobseine and Meals on Wheels driver Mark Emke. In back left to right are Emily VanDette and Laura Koepke, Meals on Wheels driver Bob Kachermeyer, Cheryl Noggle, Lenore Fiebelkorn, Denise Griggs and Kerry Askin. Submitted photo

Meals on Wheels in the Dunkirk-Fredonia area has been exceptionally busy during the COVID-19 pandemic. From their regular job of supplying meals to people unable to cook for themselves to finding needs throughout the community, the organization has been pounding the pavement.

“There has been an increase in numbers of individuals who are requesting assistance, but we are delivering fewer actual meals because we’re limiting them somewhat just due to eligibility requirements that are constantly changing,” said Executive Director Deb Pacos. “They may get one meal instead of two meals, or they may not get weekend meals, it depends on their need. That’s not to say that if a person needs two meals a day because of lack of formal or informal resources or support they won’t get two meals a day, but we are looking more in depth at those kinds of aspects of the program.”

Pacos said the organization’s biggest concern is making sure there’s enough for food everyone; the nonprofit wants to avoid putting members of the community on a waiting list.

“We want to make sure that there are enough meals and our ability to cover their cost for everybody that needs them,” Pacos said. “We do have a lot of people that do share with their neighbors and they get food from them and if they do that, they don’t need two meals from us.”

COVID did expose a lot to the program starting with a massive increase in clients at 15%, but that has since subsided.

“In November we launched another type of meal service and worked with a caterer and we do a drop off once a week to people that don’t need somebody to look in on them every day. They get either a three or five meal pack,” Pacos said. “We also deliver Pet Meals on Wheels. People weren’t out getting their shopping that need that extra assistance and just need to supplement what they need for their animals. The pandemic exposed a lot of different needs and we just looked at what could we possibly do with the staff and volunteers that are delivering and working with this meal program, what’s doable with what we currently have as far as staff and volunteers. We were finding that people were giving their people food to their pets because they weren’t getting to the store to get pet food. Nestle Purina has been marvelous as far as providing us with food.”

Other programs for Meals on Wheels include a monthly mobile food pantry with deliveries beginning in mid-April, with 25% of their meal recipients subscribing to the program. The program is open to all Meals on Wheels clients, regardless of income. An assortment of shelf stable foods, such as canned chicken and tuna, vegetables, fruits and single-serving cereals are among the offerings.

“If we are able to locate businesses who would like to help, we would also like to include fresh produce and baked goods,” Pacos said. “The mobile food pantry helps ensure that our seniors always have food on-hand, especially if they aren’t able to shop.”

They are also working with the Dunkirk Public Library to revamp their bookmobile program. Pacos noted that meal recipients have enjoyed receiving new reading and audio materials twice monthly, particularly during this time of increased isolation.

“We were also the grateful recipient of a transportation grant through the Chautauqua County COVID-19 Crisis Response fund, for the express purpose of moving food where needed throughout Northern Chautauqua County,” Pacos added. “We deliver groceries to homebound seniors for Office for the Aging, bagged lunches to remote learning students for the Dunkirk City School District, and most recently, food and other household supplies to individuals under quarantine for the Department of Health & Human Services.”

All of this is being accomplished through the efforts of their many volunteers, as well as Meals on Wheels staff. At the beginning of the pandemic the organization did suffer a need of volunteers, but Pacos is now happy to say that she has so many there isn’t enough work for them all and she’s trying to find other creative things for them to do in the organization.

“If the pandemic showed us anything, it’s how fortunate we are to live and work in such a generous, caring, and compassionate community,” Pacos shared. “There’s no place I’d rather be.”

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