Meals on Wheels, which provides delivered meals to seniors and people with disabilities, has relied upon volunteers to deliver daily meals, many of those are typically older adults who are retired.

The pandemic drastically changed that as drivers who were at greater risk of becoming ill no longer feel comfortable delivering the daily meals.

The volunteer base shifted as many working adults who were laid off from their jobs stepped in to continue the food delivery service.

“I think it’s given people a sense of purpose and something meaningful to do – something consistent, something with intention when there’s so much going on that we can’t control,” said Sarah Boggess of Hopkins. She is the client coordinator for the Meals on Wheels program that serves Hopkins, St. Louis Park and eastern Minnetonka.

The Meals On Wheels Hopkins locations, based out of Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, delivers an average of 500 meals a week and has had an increase in requests as more of the at-risk population stays at home.

Early on in the pandemic, Meals on Wheels, which has 32 programs in the Twin Cities area, put out a call for volunteers because so many of the program’s volunteers were in the high-risk group.

More than 1,000 volunteers answered that call.

“All of sudden, here they came from all different sources,” said Carolee Hanks, who coordinates the volunteers for the Meals on Wheels program in Hopkins.

Jenifer Williams of Hopkins was furloughed from her job as a corporate meeting planner in March.

Williams had previously been financially supportive of the program as her mother-in-law relied on Meals on Wheels and felt the call to give back, she said.

With extra time on her hands, Williams decided “to step it up a little” by becoming a volunteer delivering meals once a week.

In addition to providing a nutritious meal, much of the Meals on Wheels program is about human connection as many of the clients are seniors who may not have any other social interaction.

Hanks explained that loneliness is a large factor when it comes to the overall health of the older adult population, which is why that interaction is so important.

While contact is limited, drivers like Williams will place the bag on the client’s doorknob, knock and wait for them to come to the door. This allows the driver to confirm the client’s safety.

Standing at least 6 feet away and wearing a mask, Williams gives a positive greeting to her clients wishing them well as they go about their day.

Jean Niklason of Maple Grove has been volunteering for 12 years and began through her employer Cargill, which encourages employees to volunteer.

Pre-pandemic, Niklason was delivered meals once a month. Now, she is delivering eight to 12 meals three to four times a week.

“And I love it,” she said. “The people are so excited to see you.”

Hanks said she’s been grateful to all the volunteers who have answered the call.

“Thank you, to all,” she said.

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer or having meals delivered can call Metro Meals on Wheels at 612-623-3363.

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Kristen Miller is the community editor for the Sun Sailor, covering the communities of Plymouth, Hopkins and Minnetonka. Email story ideas to kristen.miller@ecm-inc.com

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