Mid-Columbia Meals on Wheels adapts to pandemic, continues serving around 700 seniors

RICHLAND, Wash. — During the pandemic, local volunteers are having to learn how to safely interact with a population that’s more vulnerable than ever.

“It’s been a frenzy,” said Kristi Thien, nutrition services director at Mid-Columbia Meals on Wheels.

Over the last four months, Thien and the other staff and volunteers have had to adapt to serving seniors in different ways. Instead of delivering hot meals daily, they serve frozen meals weekly – around 21,000 each month.

“We started with an inventory of about 40,000 meals so we knew if we got sick we could still feed our seniors,” said Thien.

They’ve had to redistribute some roles, but the new meal prep and delivery system is keeping the volunteers busy.

“Its a pretty rigorous process,” said Thien. “We ask them to wear a mask, use hand sanitizer and put on fresh gloves, ring the door bell or knock, place the food on the door step and then step back six to eight feet so they can still have a quick visit when the client comes.”

For seniors that are used to eating in-person at the Meals on Wheels cafe – they can now pick up frozen meals instead.

This time of year, the organization also offers farmers market vouchers for seniors. Eligible seniors can qualify for $40 in vouchers to use at local farmers markets. Seniors who are unable to access the markets themselves can appoint someone else to go on their behalf.

Something new this year – Midweek Motivators – a weekly, mini fundraiser. Every Wednesday, people can donate toward the cost of 2, 4 or 8-serving dinners. The menu changes weekly.

While staff and volunteers have gotten into more of a rhythm over the last few months, it doesn’t mean it’s been easy.

“It ebbs and flows,” said Thien. “It is very wearing and not a real end in sight at this point.”

It also hasn’t been easy for the seniors who are trying to adapt as well.

“They are tired of only seeing us once a week or tired of frozen meals, but they also understand the safety issue and grateful we’re not over exposing them,” said Thien. “I keep telling people, if you have a senior in your life give them a call…any kind of contact…it’s hard to be alone.”

For more information on services, call the Meals on Wheels office at (509) 735-1911.