Meals on Wheels of Hood County, in conjunction with Hood County Committee on Aging, has been serving local senior citizens for over 40 years, and they are going as strong as ever.
Even though COVID-19 has changed the way volunteers do their work, it doesn’t keep them from delivering hot meals to their clients.
Meals on Wheels volunteers deliver about 300 meals a day and serve more than 6,000 meals each month.
“We have about 200 (volunteers) that we rotate through,” said Jeanette Scott, executive director of Hood County Committee on Aging. “We have about 70 or 80 that are really active, and the rest fill in as needed. We do 18 or 20 routes a day across Hood County and each one requires a driver, and most people have two people in the car — one to drive and one to deliver the meal — so you’re talking about 40 different people every day. Some people drive a route several days a week, once a week, once a month ... We have a volunteer coordinator who coordinates all of that.”
Each volunteer is given a route booklet that provides pictures and locations of the houses and a route sheet that tells the driver the order of the houses to visit.
Before COVID-19, the drivers would park their cars outside the Hood County Senior Center, go inside the building, drink coffee, socialize and then bring their cooler to the car.
Now, all of the drivers line up outside and their coolers are brought to them.
“We’re never going to change this part because we like the efficiency,” Scott said. “This is something we never thought about changing before, but it’s excellent. There's a lot of things that we’ve changed that we will not change back.”
During the winter freeze that took place in February, Meals on Wheels volunteers had to give their clients shelf-stable meals, meaning that they didn’t have to be cooked.
“This is part of our emergency plan. We literally sent out everything,” Scott said. “A lot of our clients had broken pipes and didn’t have water. A lot of them didn’t have electricity that week. We had one couple who their propane tank was about to run out and we called the propane company and had them deliver a tank of propane to them. We get donations that make that possible for us to do that.”
Hood County Emergency Management gave Meals on Wheels of Hood County three pallets of water right after the storm. Scott said the water was “excellent” because so many people didn’t have water during that time.
“Everybody took care of each other,” she said.
On Wednesdays, Meals on Wheels receives a produce box from the Tarrant Area Food Bank and sends produce out to their clients.
“This is a free program for us,” Scott said. “We love giving our folks food and they don’t get a lot of fresh produce because most of the people are homebound so they can’t get out and go shopping.”
To qualify for Meals on Wheels, an individual has to be over age 60 and they have to be assessed to see how they get along physically — to determine if they are able to stand and cook, go shopping and gauge their balance.
“We deliver meals Monday through Friday, but there are some people who need meals on the weekend so on Friday, we send another cooler with frozen meals,” Scott said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with income. A lot of people, just standing in the kitchen for long periods of time to cook, they can’t do that, so we do an assessment and after that, then they can qualify for the meals.”
Along with their Meals on Wheels clients, Hood County Committee on Aging also has what they call “congregate meals” each day that require no qualifications. The individuals line up outside the Hood County Senior Center for lunch and socialize with others waiting in line.
“Our congregate clients that pre-COVID, came in the building and did activities and ate lunch, a small amount of them come and they line up (each day),” said Crystal Smith, activity coordinator for Hood County Committee on Aging. “A lot of them start at 10 a.m. They sit out here for an hour to an hour and a half. I think the main reason is so that they can see each other.”
Smith said they have anywhere from 15 to 40 people who come daily to receive a congregate meal.
“This one gentleman, he will get out of his car and he will go sit in somebody else’s car and they don’t wear masks, they hug, and kiss and they don’t care,” she said. “He is very emotional during this time and he needs his friends. He doesn’t need the food. He could go anywhere and get lunch, but he comes here because it’s where he belongs and it’s where his friends are...He looks at me and he has tears in his eyes often, but if I can say something stupid and make him smile, I feel like I might have helped a little.”
Scott said they are always looking for more volunteers, especially because they have now started a new route.
“Our routes need to be done within two hours because of food safety guidelines,” she said. “When a route starts getting too long, we have to split it up.”
She said just last month, they had between 15-20 new clients.
“It’s not slowing down; it’s constant,” she said. “We don’t turn people away. We don’t have a waiting list. We make room for them. When we have to split a route, that’s five days a week that we have to find volunteers for, so it’s not easy to do if you don’t have volunteers.”
Some of the Meals on Wheels volunteers have been delivering meals for 25 years.
“Many have been doing it for eight, nine years and they show up faithfully every week, and they get to know their clients. A lot of these seniors, they may not get to see another human being that day except for their driver,” said Shylo Preston, meal program manager for Hood County Committee on Aging.
To sign up to become a volunteer or to sign up for meals, visit www.mowhctx.org.
"Everybody uses their own car, and they volunteer their time and their mileage, so we appreciate all of that. We couldn’t do it without them,” Scott added.
Hood County Committee on Aging members like Scott and Smith work 7 a.m.- 3 p.m. Monday through Friday to provide meals to the homebound seniors and to their congregate clients.
Smith added, “We are just trying to make them smile.”