Guest Columnist

How Meals on Wheels is adapting to fight the spread of COVID-19 in Iowa

Employees and volunteers package meals in the Meals on Wheels kitchen at Horizons: A Family Service Alliance in southeas
Employees and volunteers package meals in the Meals on Wheels kitchen at Horizons: A Family Service Alliance in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Friday, March 13, 2020. The service, which delivers meals to older adults and persons with disabilities, will deliver extra frozen meals to its clients because of possible effects of the coronavirus. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

In the midst of the uncertainty and concern surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak, there are many in our community who rely on essential services like Horizons’ Meals on Wheels. It is imperative that we continue to assist the homebound, often isolated, immunocompromised, and low-income older adults in our community to weather this storm safely.

For the safety of this vulnerable population, as well as for the safety of our employees and volunteers, Horizons has implemented some changes to our service delivery model.

Employee and volunteer temperatures are checked daily upon arrival at Horizons. Additionally, movement through the building has been limited to only those areas required to perform specific job functions an individual is here to perform. For example, kitchen access is restricted to employees and volunteers involved with the preparation and packaging of food.

Daily home-delivered hot meals have been replaced with a weekly delivery of frozen meals to reduce the frequency of interaction between volunteers and clients. However, we know the value of regular contact and check-ins with our clients. Therefore, we also will implement an additional well-check by phone twice per week. These calls also will give us the opportunity to ask our clients about any additional needs during this time.

Home-delivered meal clients are homebound older adults with barriers to food access. These obstacles are amplified by the risk presented by going to the grocery store during this COVID-19 crisis. Even sending a friend or relative to a store on their behalf can present additional risks and challenges, particularly if those caregivers are also trying to maintain social distancing. To help keep cupboards stocked, Horizons’ Meals on Wheels clients may request additional supplemental shelf-stable food packages.

Staff meet daily to review and update our COVID-19 plan. We also participate in community virtual meetings to stay abreast of changes and additional needs.

We pride ourselves on the top quality services we provide, and we are honored to collaborate with other agencies on emergency service projects. Horizons is currently producing additional frozen meals for clients of Heritage’s Encore Café, providing meals for children at Waypoint child care, and we continue to provide meals for HACAP Head Start sites.

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We are humbled and appreciative of the many offers of volunteer assistance during this emergency. Before the outbreak, we were already in need of funding to support our critical programming. To volunteer or donate to Horizons, please visit our website, horizonsfamily.org, and click “How You Can Help.” Thank you for helping Horizons’ Meals on Wheels to deliver “More Than Just A Meal.”

Sofia Mehaffey is Meals on Wheels director at Horizons in Linn County.

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