By Rebecca Aguilar
It’s early Friday morning, and Ruth Williams and her granddaughter, Megan Manning, arrive at the Visiting Nurses Association’s kitchen in west Dallas to collect meals they’ll deliver to senior citizens. They are part of an army of Meals on Wheels volunteers who provide meals to 4,500 homes in Dallas County every day. “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 illness. Jennifer Atwood, VNA’s managing director of development and communications, 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.”
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. Shirley says the hugging will be a hard habit to break. “I will do a fist bump, but yeah, it’s going to be tough.”
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 lunch for the day. Now VNA has arranged for 1,500 people to do curbside pick-up 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.”
Volunteer Ruth Williams is 70 years old. 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. “I just believe that we need to make a difference where other people can see that we care about them and that we love them, and that they’re not forgotten.”