The human interaction that Meals on Wheels & More provides its Morgan County clients has become more important than ever during the pandemic, according to its volunteers.
"A lot of the folks that we deliver meals to, even before the pandemic, are isolated often from family and from friends," said Sam Janis, 71. "The contact that we would have with folks is sometimes the only contact they have with another human during the day."
Janis and his wife Betty, who have volunteered with Meals on Wheels since 2006, say the interaction enabled by the program is one reason they're thankful meal delivery has continued, even if it's on a reduced frequency of once per week.
To help Meals on Wheels & More of Morgan County serve local residents, The Daily is accepting financial contributions this month for the program, which is operated by the Community Action Partnership of North Alabama.
The benefits of the program are clear to Mindy Bass, 56, who began volunteering for meal delivery in October. She has encountered many residents who look forward to the volunteers' arrival each week.
"Some of those ladies are sitting by the door waiting on you," Bass said. "They'll immediately start a conversation, making sure that they appreciate you, and they take pride in making sure we understand that.
"I have one guy that used to be a nurse and so he talks to me about the pandemic and making sure that we're safe, and he's also extremely nice and very helpful and thankful. It's just a good environment for me. I feel very comfortable and they are very excited to see you. They don't see a lot of people."
Meals on Wheels provides meals and care packages each Wednesday to about 254 disabled, elderly and homebound Morgan County residents. The care packages contain items that meal recipients can easily prepare or heat up — soup, crackers, oatmeal, fruit bars/cups, Vienna sausages, peanut butter, jelly, fresh fruit and vegetables.
Staying in touch
The regular delivery schedule allows volunteers to check on the well-being of the residents on their routes, said Sam Janis.
"You can make some assessment of the situation if somebody is in trouble of some sort," he said. "Often if we don't see a certain individual we're used to seeing, we make a phone call and try to get at least a call back from them to make sure they're ... doing OK."
Betty Janis, 72, agreed about the importance of keeping contact with the meal recipients and recalled experiences with a client who died over the Christmas holidays.
"He just jumped at the chance to get a 'hello' and a 'how are you?'" she said. "He was just so pleased that there was somebody that was showing some interest in him," she said.
Sam Janis said that volunteering with Meals on Wheels provides the opportunity to understand living conditions for others in the community.
"If you don't rub shoulders with some of the down-and-out in the community, you get to thinking that the standard of living that many of us enjoy is the standard," he said. "It is not the standard. It's kind of a wake-up call for me on a regular basis to see the needs."
Betty Janis said she's seen the impact of Meals on Wheels firsthand.
"There was one person that somehow failed to renew his food stamps and had he not been getting the Meals on Wheels he would have literally gone hungry because he had no real family at all," she said. "That we were able to deliver the meals to him kept him going, and he couldn't have been more appreciative."
She added, "The support of the program from the community has always been good but it's so necessary and so helpful, and it brings me to tears to even talk about it. I just feel so blessed to be a part of it."
Bass said she realized the value of Meals on Wheels through her parents.
"My father had always in his later years participated in Meals on Wheels in Florida so I knew all about it and I knew what the organization did and how well it served people," Bass said.
Both of her parents died in 2016.
"I've taken care of my parents in their later years," Bass said. "When my parents got up in age, they had both had critical illnesses that gave them a short amount of time once they were diagnosed and they died six months apart. I understand the elderly community and the need that they have."
Anyone interested in volunteering with Meals on Wheels can contact Cindy Anderson, CAPNA director of community services, at email@example.com or 256-260-3103.