By Stephanie Patella '20
Meals on Wheels is a non-profit organization that began in 1972. First developed on the grounds of Seaview Hospital in Staten Island New York, community activists prepared meals for about 23 senior patients in the rehabilitation center. From there, meals were expanded to four hospitals on Staten Island, including Bailey Seaton and Staten Island University Hospital. Many people would report to these hospitals to pick up food to deliver to the sick elderly patients waiting in their rooms.
In 2002, the Meals on Wheels headquarters opened in Port Richmond, Staten Island, as a way of gaining control over the quality, number, and cost of the meals. Once the idea of delivering meals expanded beyond hospital bedsides, volunteers were extremely enthusiastic to start donating to elders who were stuck at home and unable to prepare or buy food for themselves. In the beginning, Meals on Wheels served about 325 people. Over time this number increased to 1,300 people who are served two meals each day. Due to this tremendous growth, Vice President of Meals on Wheels in Staten Island, Rosann Holt, hopes to “break ground with a 10,000 square foot kitchen” by Spring 2019 to help make more room for the cooks to prepare food and for volunteers to roll out the countless deliveries.
Meals on Wheels partners with the Community Agency for Senior Citizens. They act as the case managers, or “social workers,” to determine who qualifies to be a recipient of the meals. The basic criteria to be eligible requires the person to be at least 60 years of age and, most importantly, unable to leave their home to shop or cook for themselves.
Before allowing meals to be sent to them right away, the agency will complete an “intake,” where a nurse will go into their homes, evaluate the situation, go over their medical history, dietary needs, and complete an overall wellness check on that person. Once completed, the nurse will send the referral to case management to double check if all criteria have indeed been met. After this 2-3 day process, they will send the referral to Meals on Wheels, informing them whether the person is or is not eligible. From there, meals can be regularly sent out to each person, or they are able to assign when they would like to receive their meals.
Each person is entitled to a hot and cold meal. The cold meals include items like sandwiches, apples, and a carton of milk, while a hot meal consists of chicken and a vegetable, taking into account dietary restrictions for each person, of course. If someone requires immediate assistance, an emergency box can be sent to them right away with a mix of both hot and cold meals which should hold them over for a few days. The volunteers are in charge of making sure that when they deliver meals, they cannot leave the food outside the door without permission from the resident of the home. They should always make sure the person is home and aware of the delivery. The volunteers truly act as the eyes and ears of the entire process.
Meals on Wheels has been blessed with an overwhelming amount of volunteers who contribute not only monetary donations, but also by making deliveries. Simply put, volunteers are assigned to certain routes for deliveries. They follow the directions provided to them and transport the designated cold and hot meals to the elders listed. There are always at least a dozen Meals on Wheels trucks on standby to deliver meals in areas that volunteers would not usually be sent. However, 80% of meals are delivered by volunteers, meaning there are 48 volunteers across Staten Island making deliveries every day.
Before her job as Vice President, Rosann worked for the Seaton Foundation for Learning, focusing on children with developmental disabilities. The foundation eventually partnered with Meals and Wheels allowing the children to get involved in helping to pack or deliver meals. Since then, over 21 agencies, including Community Resources and On Your Mark, have made up a large portion of volunteers delivering and contributing to the success of Meals on Wheels and the overall happiness of elders who receive their food.
If volunteers are assigned to the same route, they may start to form a connection with a recipient and assist them outside of delivery days. Seeing the smiles on each person’s face while delivering a meal is just one small and simple reason for the numerous volunteers each year. I myself have been extremely lucky to volunteer and deliver food to elders around my neighborhood for Meals on Wheels. The overall feeling of completing that wonderful deed is an amazing experience that I encourage everyone to take part in.