Story and Photo by Rebecca Aguilar
Ruth Williams and her granddaughter, Megan Manning, recently arrived at the Visiting Nurses Association’s kitchen in west Dallas to collect meals they’d deliver to senior citizens. They are part of an army of Meals on Wheels volunteers who daily provide meals to 4,500 homes in Dallas County. “It’s important to give back because, at one time, my father was a recipient. So every opportunity that I have to do good is important to me,” said Williams.
But the coronavirus has changed the way volunteers and paid drivers deliver the meals and deal with the people they feed. The VNA has now adopted the guidelines set by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help stop the spread of the virus. VNA’s managing director of Development and Communications, Jennifer Atwood, says volunteers have been encouraged to do what they have always done, wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before, during and after they deliver the meals.
“We are serving a vulnerable population, and we want to protect our seniors that we serve, our volunteers, and our staff,” she explained. Gregory Shirley is like many volunteers. He delivers a meal and often offers a hug or handshake to those who see him every day. “It’s in my nature to make sure these people are fed, because a lot of times this may be their only contact or only meal. So it’s important to them, so it’s important to me.”
But Atwood, who also delivers meals, says volunteers and paid drivers can no longer hug or shake the hands of any of the Meals on Wheels clients. Social distancing is now a priority. While Dallas County officials have banned community gatherings of more than 50 people, Meals on Wheels cannot deliver to senior recreation centers where the elderly would get their daily lunch.
Now VNA has arranged for 1,500 people to do curbside pickup at various locations so they can still get a good meal. Daily volunteers and paid drivers head out on 300 routes in Dallas County after they pack bright blue zip-top bags with packaged hot and cold meals from coolers at the VNA kitchen and other pickup locations.
Atwood says today Meals on Wheels needs more help because some older volunteers have decided now is not the time to be outside. “We’ve had a few groups who have decided not to deliver, but for the most part, our volunteers understand the importance of folks getting a meal.”
One such volunteer is 70-year-old Ruth Williams who says she knows at her age she’s vulnerable to COVID-19, but she’s willing to take her chances of delivering meals to several senior citizens.