Friday, October 29, 2010

Meals on Wheels of Greenville County, SC

According to a study conducted in 2009 by the Meals On Wheels Association of America, South Carolina is the state with the second highest risk of senior hunger in America.
Therefore, for our visit to South Carolina we decided to visit a program specifically targeting seniors. We chose Meals on Wheels of Greenville, which serves all of Greenville County, the most populous county in the state.
We met with Director of Volunteer Services Kerri Brison and Executive Director Liz Seman (pictured here), who included us in their busy day and gave us a full picture of how this great organization functions.

Meals on Wheels of Greenville:
  • Began in 1968.
  • Is entirely supported by community donations from private individuals and corporations. They take no money from the government or United Way, freeing them to set their own rules.
  • Serves about 1500 meals a day (M-F) to homebound clients who are referred by a physician or social service agency. Unlike many similar programs, here there are no charges for the meals and no financial qualifications to receive them. They “serve without judging.”
  • Runs with about 13 full-time and 17 part-time staff members, and about 2000 volunteers. The largest groups of volunteers are retirees, stay-at-home moms, and corporate volunteers. Corporate monetary donations have declined with the poor economy, but we were told that many area companies still commit to staffing certain routes; this allows employees to volunteer less frequently but relieves Meals on Wheels from the burden of scheduling the volunteers individually. Many volunteer work the line or drive the same route on the same day each week.
  • Sees their role as providing daily human contact for their clients, some of whom see nobody else all day. The volunteer who delivers the meal also chats with the client and if something seems amiss reports that to staff, who try to help by doing things like arranging for other services the client might need.
On our day at Meals on Wheels of Greenville, we worked on the line to pack all 1500 meals and we helped to deliver meals on two different routes.
How did it all work?
Packing meals was like being a cog in a well-oiled machine. Twelve volunteers worked on the line, six on each side:  The first person scooped rice into the largest compartment of a divided aluminum tray and slid it along to the next, who added a piece of chicken breast. The 3rd and 4th people added broccoli and diced pears. The 5th and 6th put the lid on the dinner tray and clamped it shut. Kitchen staff kept the line supplied with food and moved the finished trays to heating cabinets to return them to proper temperatures.
It only took an hour and a half for our crew to pack all of the day’s 1500 meals! About 1350 of the meals were for today’s clients and 150 were frozen for clients who need extra meals for the evening or weekend, when Meals on Wheels doesn’t deliver.

Then it was time to deliver the meals.  Meals on Wheels of Greenville maintains 112 delivery routes, each with an average of about 11 stops – whatever number keeps the total time to do the route under 1.5 hours so the food will arrive hot.

We were awed by the complexity of the process that must be required to maintain these routes and the deliveries on them:
  • New clients are added or existing clients removed.
  • Clients may not need a meal on a particular day.
  • Clients may need special meals – Meals on Wheels supplies standard meals (all of which are appropriate for diabetics), renal meals (for clients who need low sodium and low potassium), precut meals (for clients with difficulty cutting, such as those with arthritis), and pureed meals (for clients with dental problems, for example). In addition, clients can choose milk or juice.
  • Volunteer drivers become fiercely attached to the routes they drive, and the clients they get to know on those routes, so they don’t like their routes to be changed.
The first meals off the line were transferred to 4 trucks that take meals to drop-off sites (church parking lots) for about 20 routes that serve areas of the county far away from Greenville.

Volunteer drivers for the nearby routes arrived about 10:45 and picked up the updated list for their route. Each list showed which clients needed a meal that day, which type of meal, and which beverage. The route list also had directions on how to get to each client’s residence and information about the client such as how long it might take them to get to the door.
The drivers packed the cold drinks they’d need in their “cold” insulated container. They then went to the kitchen window where staff loaded their “hot” containers with meals of the proper type from the heating ovens. If they were also delivering a frozen meal, these were added to the “cold” container.

Sometimes, drivers bring other items to clients as well:
  • Donated bread
  • Peaches or other fruit
  • Cat or dog food (twice a month to clients with pets)
  • A card and special treat such as a small cake or sugar-free pie (diet appropriate) for clients celebrating a birthday
Finally, the drivers loaded the containers into their cars and headed out to deliver the meals and chat with the clients. Here are two pictures of the volunteers with whom we rode bringing Meals on Wheels to two grateful clients.
The Meals On Wheels Association of America is a loose association of non-profit organizations that share the goal of ending hunger among seniors in America. Member organizations vary widely in how they operate, but we can only hope that all are as effective in serving the needs of their clients as Meals on Wheels of Greenville.

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