Volunteer opportunities still available aside from delivery
The Fairfax Area Meals on Wheels program currently delivers meals once a week. However, according to former volunteer Dave Roycraft, it has not always been this way.
According to Department of Family Services Director of Communications Amy Carlini, Meals on Wheels “currently serves more than 500 people per week.” She also noted that, “During the height of the pandemic, demand surged to more than 670 people per week.”
Carlini said that the program currently serves:
Fairfax area residents age 60 and over and adults with disabilities who cannot shop for or prepare their own meals or have no one available to prepare meals.
Services are targeted to persons 60 years of age and older and adults with disabilities with greatest economic and social need and older adults at risk for institutional placement.
Services available to residents of Fairfax County, City of Fairfax and City of Falls Church.
Roycraft said that he, along with about 480 volunteers, used to deliver meals to elderly people in Fairfax County about three times a week. When the pandemic struck, this changed — a change Roycraft thought necessary for the time.
But then, even as pandemic restrictions eased up, the county decided not to return to a volunteer-based delivery system.
“Meals on Wheels moved to a weekly, vendor delivery model to ensure consistency and safety during the pandemic. The decision to switch from a volunteer to vendor delivery model for Meals on Wheels was made to ensure continuity of service should a crisis impact our community. The initial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic revealed a threat to our ability to ensure meals are delivered consistently and in a manner that is safe to both our residents utilizing the service as well as our volunteers. The meal vendor, JDL Ventures, Inc., directly delivers meals to the participants’ homes and checks in on each participant in the process. They provide feedback to the DFS case management team if they see anything for which a recipient may need assistance,” Carlini said.
Now, Roycraft noted that the Meals on Wheels volunteers have been slated, saying that he’s been asking to see the return of this form of delivery service since June.
When he’s asked those in charge of this change in the volunteers of Meals on Wheels, he said he hasn’t gotten what he feels are sufficient answers as to why the volunteers have been disbanded.
“This has been a very laborious process for me, the county gave lots of reasons why they had to do this,” Roycraft said.
What upsets Roycraft the most is that the impersonal touch he believes the new delivery service to have.
For him, fostering connections with those who received Meals on Wheels services was the most important part of the program. It is something that he said his mom, who is the reason Roycraft became involved in Meals on Wheels, benefited from.
“The core mission of Meals on Wheels is far more than simply being an impersonal once a week, food delivery service. It’s the personal interactions between us volunteers and the clients and I can tell you story after story after story after story of the people that … I’ve touched and have touched me, and that’s the whole purpose of Meals on Wheels. The food is the essential catalyst that gets our foot in the door to talk to these wonderful people. And that’s what they’re they’re totally ignoring. They’ve blown that away completely. That’s gone,” he said.
Carlini noted that there are still opportunities for people to volunteer with Meals on Wheels.
“Our MOW volunteers were offered several other opportunities to connect with older adults and adults with disabilities for meaningful social connection in a variety of ways. For example, we’ve created a new mealtime visitor program. Our valuable volunteers can provide support in one-on-one or group settings,” she said. Those interested in volunteering can connect with a volunteer coordinator by calling 703-324-5406, TTY 711.
A 2015 study by Brown University showed that Meals on Wheels helps those who receive services are “significantly more vulnerable than the average American senior.”
The study also showed that a senior who receives daily services is more likely to attribute the meals to making them feel safer, report that the meals allowed them to eat healthier, and note that the meals resulted in less loneliness.
Carlini also noted the importance of the program for seniors.
“Meals on Wheels is an essential component of providing food security to homebound older adults and adults with disabilities in our community. Knowing the older adult population is the fastest-growing population in our area, it is critical that we build effective, efficient, and equitable systems to continue to provide meals to those who need them in our largest local jurisdiction Meals on Wheels program,” she explained.
According to the Older Americans Act of 1965, home-delivered nutrition services should provide “on five or more days a week (except in a rural area where such frequency is not feasible (as defined by the Assistant Secretary by rule) and a lesser frequency is approved by the State agency) at least one home-delivered meal per day, which may consist of hot, cold, frozen, dried, canned, or fresh foods and, as appropriate, supplemental foods, and any additional meals that the recipient of a grant or contract under this subpart elects to provide.”
The shift to a vendor delivered meal model was and will continue to be supported through the Older American’s Act funding and no additional local tax dollars were required or requested to support the transition, according to Carlini.
This information is also listed in the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services under their home-delivered nutrition section.
Those who are requesting or referring Meals on Wheels services, can call 703-324-5409, TTY 711.