Meals on Wheels dedicates new building, seeks help to restart deliveries

The new year brought good and bad for Mid-Columbia Meals on Wheels and its parent, Senior Life Resources Northwest.

It has a new office to handle growth at its Richland campus, but a lack of volunteers forced it to delay plans to resume daily meal deliveries to its homebound clients.

Kristi Thien, nutrition services director, had hoped to resume delivering hot meals four days a week to its elderly and homebound clients on Jan. 10. Daily deliveries were a casualty of the pandemic. Instead of a hot meal each weekday, clients received a week’s worth of frozen meals delivered in a single visit.

She was forced to delay daily service because there aren’t enough volunteers.

Those interested in driving shifts between 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. on delivery days can call 509-735-1911.

New $1.6M building

On a more positive note, the agency, staff and volunteers celebrated the completion of its 6,100-square-foot building with a low-key ribbon-cutting in December. The $1.6 million project provides much-needed space for Senior Life Resources, Meals on Wheels and Home Care Services. The Home Care business recorded more than 1 million service hours in 2021, a record.

The new building was constructed by Pratt & Co., the company founded by the late Don Pratt. The one-time Tri-Citian of the Year was a devoted to Meals on Wheels volunteer who served as a regular volunteer driver. When it dedicated its new building, Senior Life Resources dedicated a monument to Pratt near the Meals on Wheels drive-thru.

Restoring home delivery

Meals on Wheels offers hot meals at its daily drive-thru, which restarted in 2021. It is a good start, but Thien is eager to restore home delivery. Some patrons aren’t able to travel to the Richland Wye area to collect meals in person, she said.

Senior Life Resources is one of the few Meals on Wheels program to deliver hot meals, a costly logistical challenge that involves heating packs and strict compliance with food safety regulations.

Meals on Wheels provides human contact as well as food, Thien said. Its volunteers monitor the welfare of seniors who might be overlooked.

In one recent instance, a longtime volunteer who was forced to stop for safety reasons recently reported rescuing a woman who had been on the ground for 30 hours, a moving experience that reminded her of the value of in-person contact.

“Those home visits were important to (volunteers) and seniors,” she said.

During the pandemic, it stayed connected with clients through a phone buddy program. Talking on the phone is not the same as in-person visits, but it has been valuable.

A client told her phone buddy she was about to have her power cut off. Senior Life Resources connected her with help and prevented the utility from shutting off service.

“If that phone buddy hadn’t intervened, it might have happened. A vulnerable senior would have been without power,” she said. In another instance, a client contacted her phone buddy instead of police when her home was broken into.

  In addition to donations, the biggest need is volunteers.

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