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Meals on Wheels Keeping Older Iowans Fed During Pandemic and Phone Calls Let Them Know They Are Not Alone

For years Del Woodward, who will celebrate his 100th birthday in July, has been a part of the noon congregate meal program at Heartland Senior Services in Ames. Not only does Del enjoy the stimulating conversation and nutritious meals, but he also serves as a volunteer, setting up tables and chairs.

“Coming to Heartland every morning at 9 a.m. sharp provides me with a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging,” Del said recently. “These people are my second family.”

However, due to COVID-19, all senior centers in Iowa were closed on March 17th. This closure had a big impact on Del and other older adults that visit the center each day. Those who attended to play Bingo or cards or enjoy the evening dances or Adult Day Center now had to stay home.

“Though people were going to be isolated, we did not want them to feel alone,” Heartland’s Executive Director Nancy Carroll said.

First, staff contacted everyone who attends the noon congregate meal program to see if they wanted to begin receiving Meals on Wheels. Then, we began calling those who attend other programs at the center to provide reassurance phone calls. The calls might be one of the most important things we can do to support older adults during this time of upheaval.

“We get to visit with them and laugh together, and we find out if there is anything they need,” Carroll said. “Some older persons may be the most vulnerable population in society, and we want them to know Heartland is here for them. We ask if they need someone to go to the store and pick up medications for them, and we let them know we’ll deliver these items to their door.”

The number of Meals on Wheels participants has skyrocketed since March 17. Deliveries increased by 40% in just a few days after the COVID-19 shutdown began, from 125 deliveries each day to 175.

Del Woodward of Ames

Meals on Wheels is More than a Meal

When Bonnie Hawbaker saw the open garage door, the open car trunk and the open side door, she knew something was wrong.

Bonnie had just arrived at the home of an older adult who was receiving his Meals on Wheels delivery. She knocked on the door and heard her client cry for help: He had fallen the previous night and was still unable to get up.

Bonnie immediately called 911. Her client was shaken from laying on the floor all night, but he was ultimately uninjured.

It’s a perfect example of how the Meals on Wheels program at Heartland Senior Services of Story County doesn’t provide just a hot meal, but a safety and welfare check for each of our participants.

Bonnie Hawbaker, Meals on Wheels driver in Story County