Meals on Wheels ramps up frozen meal production to feed seniors

A plea for help

Senior Life Resources Northwest, which runs Meals on Wheels, was forced to cancel a major fundraiser in early March that was expected to generate $50,000.

Grant Baynes, executive director of the agency, encourages supporters to give money if they can, whether it is to Meals on Wheels or any cause that they support. Support Meals on Wheels at seniorliferesources.org/donate

Though Mid-Columbia Meals on Wheels’ eight dining centers shut down daily hot lunch service and drivers have curtailed meal delivery to seniors’ doorsteps, the nonprofit’s staff and volunteers have been busy assembling frozen meals.

“We’re not planning to go anywhere. We’ve been here 46 years, and although these are scary times, we’re here for them. We are 100 percent committed to our seniors and their loved ones who rely on us to provide nutrition, support and friendship. We appreciate the support of our community and the faith they show in us,” said Kristi Thien, nutrition services director.

The nonprofit cooked and packaged more than 11,000 frozen meals during the week of March 27. Thien said the team typically cooks about 3,400 meals a week.

“Each of those meals requires product to be ordered, put away, cooked and then chilled, packaged, and boxed to be placed in our freezers. We’re working crazy hard to ensure that we have plenty of meals, and we want people to know that nobody needs to hoard them,” Thien said.

Senior Life Resources Northwest completed a $100,000 project to build a 1,200-square-foot facility to house a large freezer to store frozen meals last year. Thien said the new freezer has been critical for storage. It was about 65 percent full on March 30.

Meals on Wheels has been sending out about 5,000 frozen meals on Tuesdays.

“Although we know they’re not as good as when we deliver them immediately after they’re prepared, we haven’t had complaints. Mostly people are just so grateful that we’re getting food to them, and I think they’re as worried about us as we are about them,” Thien said.

All of the Meals on Wheels dining rooms are closed for their regular Monday-through-Friday hot meals. From 10 a.m. to noon Tuesdays seniors can pick up their frozen meals at the Richland, Kennewick, Pasco, Pasco Parkside, Benton City and Prosser sites. Pickup in Connell is 10 a.m. to noon Wednesdays.

Frozen meals also may be picked up from the Meals on Wheels Café every Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., regardless of which site clients typically dine in. The café is at 1834 Fowler St. in Richland.

Volunteer drivers will deliver meals to homebound clients on Tuesdays, with Thursdays serving as an overflow day for routes that have gotten too full or if a client misses a Tuesday delivery, Thien said.

The agency began offering limited home delivery and senior dining center meal service on March 16 to follow state recommendations that seniors avoid crowds. The duration is unknown.

“The main message we want our seniors and their loved ones to hear is that we are not abandoning our clients. We will continue to feed our seniors and maintain contact with them to preserve their safety and well-being. Our meal service may look different for a while as we adjust to the current health climate, but we remain committed to these folks who count on us. We strive to be a caring agency who puts the needs of our seniors first, and our seniors need us now more than ever,” Thien said.

Seniors age 60 and older who are not current Meals on Wheels clients who may now need meal assistance should call Mid-Columbia Meals on Wheels office at 509-735-1911 to sign up for meal service.

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