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Eagle News Online – Volunteer of the Month – Eagle News Online

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Volunteer of the Month: Meals on Wheels of Eastern Onondaga County

by  Mel Rubenstein

So, what is Meals on Wheels, and why is this service so important? A big thank you goes to Mary Ellen Kaier, executive director, for supplying the following information.

Kaier explains; “Our Meals on Wheels program began in 1974 as the FM Area Meals on Wheels. Initially, it delivered meals to a few homebound seniors from a church kitchen. Within a couple of years, we were well-established, using the kitchen within the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville, where we remain today. We changed our name to FM-JD Area Meals on Wheels and covered Fayetteville, Manlius, Jamesville, Dewitt and part of Pompey. Over the years, we have expanded our service area and also incorporated an East Syracuse area program.”

This organization is now known as Meals on Wheels of Eastern Onondaga County and serves over 50,000 meals annually, delivering from Bridgeport to Tully. It offers two meals a day, one hot meal and one cold meal, Monday through Friday, and for the weekend offers frozen meals for delivery on Friday.

On average, 150 meals are prepared each day. Menus are created by registered dieticians within Onondaga County’s Office of Aging, but the food is prepared daily by a cook that works for the local Meals on Wheels organization.

“People residing in our service area in need of help are eligible for meal service, regardless of age, health or financial status,” Kaier said. “With the help of our volunteers and donors, we attempt to make our meals affordable for everyone. We offer a choice of two daily meal plans, currently priced per day at $5.75 and $7.75.  Adults 60 and over may be eligible for a Wellness in Nutrition grant program through the county.”

The Meals on Wheels group normally uses at least 14 drivers each day, Monday through Friday, to make deliveries on assigned routes.

Most drivers are assigned the same route and drive one day a week. This means having a volunteer driver pool of at least 70 people to keep going.

Fortunately, many of the regular drivers are willing to volunteer on multiple days a week to substitute for other volunteers that are not available.

Dick Kelly is one of these drivers. Kelly, a Syracuse native, began driving for meals on Wheels after retiring, which he ahs done for 28 years.

That’s right, 28 years, and he is now 92 years old.

“I got involved with Meals on Wheels because I subbed for a friend who was wintering in Florida, and have been doing it ever since,” Kelly said. “Typically, some of the people I deliver to do not get to see or talk to anyone all week. So, I sit and talk to them for 10 to 15 minutes to see how their week was.”

Kelly’s family insisted that he stop driving for Meals on Wheels during the coronavirus epidemic because his age puts him at greater risk.

He is feeling a little down about not seeing his clients and is hopeful to resume as soon as possible.

There are other volunteers needed to support the drivers. For example, people like Todd Cross.

“I’ve enjoyed volunteering for them everyday since my employer, the Syracuse Crunch, has had us working remotely since March 12 and were happy to grant me time during the day to pitch in and help them out,” Cross said.

“I joined meals on wheels when the pandemic first put people on lockdown,” Catherine Hicock said. “I wanted to do something helpful and important. It’s humbling to be part of something that helps people in need. I’m so impressed at the dedication of all the volunteers and workers. I’m happy to help and enjoy the smiles that greet me when I deliver the food. My route takes me from Tully to LaFayette.”

Because of the pandemic the number of deliveries has risen over 25% and there is a need to expand the number of routes and therefore increase the number of drivers. Anyone interested in joining this great group of volunteer drivers, either regularly or short-term during this pandemic, should call the Volunteer Coordinator, Kate, at 315-627-8334.

“We provide an essential service to a vulnerable population,” Kaier said. “Our number one priority is to keep our clients and volunteers safe while continuing our mission throughout the shut-down.  Due to COVID-19, we have changed a few protocols in keeping with the recommendations of the CDC and County Health Department. For example, the drivers are doing curb-side pickup at the Meals on Wheels facility, and the meals are delivered to the client’s door, or prearranged spot. The drivers still do a visual check on the client, albeit from at least 6 feet away.  The increase in demand presents its own challenges because of its quickness and our limited resources, but so far, fortunately, we have had some dedicated folks rise to the occasion and have been able to keep up with the demand.”

Meals on Wheels of Eastern Onondaga County is a non-profit organization funded through donations, grants, and through direct payments for meals from clients or their insurance plans.

For donations contact Meals on Wheels of Eastern Onondaga County, P.O. Box 72 Manlius, NY 13104, 315 637-5446 or online: moweoc.com/donate.

To recommend someone with a stellar record of volunteering to be featured in this column contact Mel Rubenstein: [email protected] or call 315-682-7162.

Submitted photo

Todd Cross and  Catherine Hicock are among the many volunteers who give their time to Meals on Wheels of Eastern Onondaga County.

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