‘It’s not just a meal’

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Meals on Wheels program even more important during pandemic

  • Dixie Renfro
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Bakersville resident Dixie Renfro has been receiving Meals on Wheels for nearly a year and said the food has been a real help. Renfro, who said she usually leaves the house a couple of times a week, hasn’t left her home in nearly a month because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (MNJ/Juliana Walker)

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LEDGER – The Meals on Wheels program has always been a significant effort to feed seniors who have difficulty purchasing or preparing their meals. Now, with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it is more important than ever.

“These meals are a true blessing,” said Dixie Renfro, a Bakersville resident. 

Renfro has been receiving Meals on Wheels for nearly a year and said the food has been a real help.

“The people are just the nicest, and the food is pretty good, considering how picky I can be,” she said, laughing.

Renfro, who said she usually leaves the house a couple of times a week, hasn’t left her home in nearly a month because of the pandemic. 

“My daughter’s been bringing me groceries and leaving them in the garage, so I don’t even see her in person,” she said. “The only people I see right now are the volunteers, and that’s only for a few minutes.”

Mitchell Senior Center Nutrition Manager Melissa Hoilman said that’s the case for many Meals on Wheels recipients, especially now with the stay-at-home order and social distancing measures in place. 

“A lot of people don’t have any family to help them out, and they don’t see anybody except for our volunteers who deliver their meals once a day,” she said. “It’s not just a meal. It’s a daily check to see how they’re doing a lot of times.”

For some Meals on Wheels recipients, however, little has changed since the coronavirus threat worsened.

“The only thing that’s really changed is my doctor’s appointments,” said Doris Ledford, a Cane Creek resident. “I had an appointment at the clinic out of the car yesterday.”

Ledford said she rarely left her house before the pandemic, and Meals on Wheels plays a big part in that.

“It’s really difficult for me to get out for anything,” Ledford said. “The food they bring is really helpful, and I really appreciate the people that do the work.”

The Senior Center has begun providing an extra meal to clients on Fridays to help them get through the weekend, Hoilman said. 

“We used not to do that, but we’ve got to keep people in their homes and from having to get out on the weekends to go and get meals,” she said. “Also, because transportation isn’t running, we’ve started delivering to some of the people who used to come to the center to eat.”

The Meals on Wheels program in Mitchell County provides food to 90 people, Hoilman said. The Senior Center has also been providing approximately 50 drive-thru meals to people who used to come by the center for lunch regularly.

“We’ve also started calling our Meals on Wheels and regular clients every other day to check-in,” Hoilman said. “They’re really missing being here, and we’re missing them, too.”

To ensure the safety of everyone, the Senior Center has been taking extra precautions. Meals on Wheels volunteers are now required to wear gloves and are no longer supposed to enter people’s homes, Hoilman said.

“We always wore gloves, but we’ve got gloves for our volunteers now for when they go out,” she said. “We always sanitize our stuff, but now we’re just taking extra precautions and being especially careful with how we sanitize our equipment.”

Hoilman said the program has seen some volunteers drop out in recent weeks due to concerns about COVID-19, but they’ve also gained some new ones. Even though they have been able to deliver all of the meals, she said they always need more volunteers.