A Meal That Matters: How Meals On Wheels is Adapting to COVID-19

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Sarah Ambrose

Tonya Talone, a long time Meals on Wheels volunteer, works on the packaging line to produce meals for homebound members of the community. During the COVID-19 pandemic, State College Area Meals on Wheels has had to make drastic changes to their operations to ensure client and volunteer safety. “Instead of baking, I'm filling bags with nonperishable prepackaged foods or I’m working on the line, putting the hot meal in the trays to be sealed,” Talone said.

Sarah Ambrose, Staff Writer

During these uncertain times, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues on with no end in sight, one group is hit harder than most: the homebound elderly in the State College community. Fortunately for them, one organization is working nonstop to ensure their health and safety.

Operating out of the kitchen of Grace Lutheran Church, State College Area Meals On Wheels is a nonprofit organization that delivers meals to older members of the community who otherwise have no easy access to food. Normally, they deliver meals five days a week with an army of volunteers preparing the food and driving to deliver them. One of the biggest challenges faced by Meals on Wheels is adapting their services to reduce the amount of human contact.

“We’re going to a one day a week delivery where we do five frozen meals and a bag of groceries,” Executive Director Suelynn Shiller said. “The most difficult part is that [we have] nothing that we have relied on in the past. [We are] trying to figure out how to be ready for just about anything to happen.”

Another adaptation has been with the volunteers. Meals on Wheels has reduced the number of volunteers they have working each day, oftentimes giving them different roles from what they are used to. “Instead of baking, I’m filling bags with nonperishable prepackaged foods or I’m working on the line, putting the hot meal in the trays to be sealed,” Tonya Talone, a volunteer going into her 11th year with the organization, said.

Despite the many difficulties faced by Meals on Wheels, they are optimistic and appreciative of the support pouring in from the community. “I’m really lucky to have landed in State College where there’s a community of really thoughtful, caring, connected people who are making sure that we access what we need and continue to serve the people who are most in need,” Shiller said.

Social distancing and lockdowns are hard for everyone. The pains of missing important life events like birthdays, family trips, and graduations are felt by everyone. But in this time of isolation, it is important to remember how much of a difference it makes. For the clients of Meals on Wheels, is a literal life saver.

“I think that high schoolers specifically should understand that what we’re doing is trying to create a way to provide nutrition and a sense of comfort to people who really need to stay socially isolated,” Shiller said. “Our efforts are done to help keep people like grandparents safe. We take very seriously our responsibility to the community and appreciate any support that people can provide by staying with their social distancing, unfortunately by a lot of personal sacrifice.”