Editor’s Note: This article is part of BeaverCountian.com’s ongoing series, “The Beaver County Coronavirus Chronicles,” the county’s historical experience of the pandemic. Click here to see more of the series.
This week, Mike Dengel adjusted operations with drastically reduced volunteers at the Lutheran Senior Life Meals on Wheels program he manages for all of Beaver County.
Volunteers have continued deliveries of 2,600 to 3,000 monthly meals to homebound seniors. But face-to-face contact with clients has stopped.
Because of the emergency crisis, volunteers are delivering an entire week’s worth of food on one day. It began Monday, when they delivered 247 meal trays.
“We’re staffed and ready to take on the needs of senior citizens in Beaver County to get everybody through that we can,” Dengel said.
Several years ago, Meals on Wheels stopped meal prepping altogether and contracted with a meal service company with a commercial kitchen. A professional chef whips up fresh meals, low in salt, with no sugar or preservatives, then seals and freezes the meals. Meals complete with nutritional information and heating directions are delivered frozen to clients who can warm them within 5-7 minutes in the microwave. Every meal has a protein, starch and vegetables.
“We are using that product now for this crisis, which works very well for us,” Dengel said. “There’s not a risk of it being contaminated before it gets to the client.”
Many clients couldn’t get out of the house prior to coronavirus for a variety of reasons, such as being unable to safely drive or to navigate steps. Volunteers usually spend a moment with clients doing wellness checks during deliveries. At times, they have found some in duress. They have emergency contacts to notify.
“There have been times we’ve had to call 911. We stay until help arrives,” Dengel said.
As of Monday, Dengel implemented a phone call system to touch base with clients via phone as a safety precaution. Wellness checks ensure that someone is reaching out daily.
The operational changes are new territory for Dengel, who started as a volunteer in 2008 and became an employee in 2016, assigned to manage Beaver County.
The Rochester-based Meals on Wheels usually has 73 volunteers and three employees coming through the kitchen at Grace Lutheran to make deliveries. Currently they are down to one delivery per week and reduced to 20 volunteers. Fifty volunteers are off the street.
“When the emergency is over, when it makes sense, we will go back to our usual deliveries.”
One day of meal packages, or two trays, costs $9. Clients pay for their own meals and there is no commitment if you sign up. No client is in danger of missing meals. In fact, Dengel said Meals on Wheels can double its efforts if the need arises. He and other workers have laptops to sign up new clients from home, which he said, “helps us stay safe also.”
“Speaking only for myself, I’m a senior citizen who is supposed to be sheltering in my home, you know? But we have commitments we want to keep. It’s the community coming together to help the community.”
Editor’s Note: CLICK HERE TO SEND YOUR OWN STORY TO BEAVERCOUNTIAN.COM