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Meals on Wheels People changes delivery methods to protect seniors during COVID-19 outbreak

Volunteers use social distancing methods when delivering meals and don't enter the home to drop off the food.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Meals on Wheels People serves 4,500 seniors a meal each day throughout Multnomah, Washington and Clark counties. Before county buildings were shut down, those using Meals on Wheels could eat lunch at one of the many senior centers in the area.

Not anymore.

Last Friday, Meals on Wheels People made the switch to only delivering meals to homes, but instead of the usual interaction, it's a distant hello while dropping off their daily meal.

"It's really hard for the volunteers and our participants. Usually, they get a big hug, stand around and chat for 20 minutes, see how they're doing. It really is a friendship," CEO Suzanne Washington said. "So now six feet away, no touching. It's a pretty quick interaction so that nothing happens that can harm either person. I think the longer this goes, the harder it's going to be on our elderly population."

Some volunteers have let Meals on Wheels know they won't or can't deliver during these uncertain times, but with school out some teachers and parents have stepped in to help. Washington says, the more volunteers that sign up now to help, the better. Teachers have already gone through a background check and Washington says that speeds up the process.

"I see that number growing, so one of the biggest things we're going to need in the short future is donations through our online system, so we can produce more meals, feed more people who are calling us every day," Washington said.

In her Southwest Portland home, Caroline Sullivan stood just inside her door as her food was dropped off. Gave a quick hello to Norman, the volunteer bringing food to her door and as he walked off, she went out to grab it.

"It really is wonderful. I mean it's odd because I haven't been going out much at all and now it's so strange to think of it. I'm just so grateful that Meals On Wheels People have been able to figure out something for us. It would be really hard to not be able to get this help," Sullivan said.

Meals on Wheels People is also reducing the amount of home visits they make, moving to a Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Tuesday, Thursday, Friday delivery schedule, but still delivering the same amount of meals each week.

For Washington and Meals on Wheels People, as demand grows, they are trying to figure out how to stay one step ahead.

"For us, how can we prepare more food, get frozen food. If we lose staff and we can't cook as much. As more and more people do need us and the longer this goes, I see more and more disabled and senior people needing us in the building that can no longer leave their building."

If you would like to donate or volunteer, head to the Meals on Wheels People website for more information.

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