East Bay Meals on Wheels frontline responders create order from chaos

Caitlin Sly Meals on WheelsOver this past month, I have been incredibly inspired at the outpouring of support from our community. From groups of friends sewing masks for our volunteers and staff, to individuals donating funds to keep our doors open, Contra Costa residents have gone above and beyond to show their support for seniors.

The seniors we serve rely on our services now more than ever as they are further isolated from friends and family. We have also seen a huge increase in the number of requests for meal delivery as seniors that were independent before this crisis are finding themselves newly homebound as a result of the stay at home order.

Our Nutrition Services team is working extra hours to respond to ensure we are increasing our services to meet the need. I am grateful to work with a dedicated group of people who answer the call to prevent hunger among older adults in our community.

I have also been encouraged by the innovative partnerships that have blossomed in responding to this pandemic.


When Gavin Newsom issued an executive order last month for all individuals, especially those over the age of 60, to stay home for their own safety it set in motion the need for MOW Diablo Region to rethink how we would continue providing services to the seniors who depend on us. Requests for deliveries quickly climbed and the importance of keeping our clients safe became paramount. Enter our frontline responders.

Shifting Gears

The executive order created challenges for MOW Diablo Region’s Nutrition Services Division. Many of our volunteers are over 60 and felt they needed to temporarily stop delivering meals. In addition, we have increased service by over 25%! Suddenly several routes were without drivers and more people needed meals to remain safely at home Also, MOW Diablo Region needed to purchase masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and other equipment to make delivery safer. The Nutrition Services Team did not miss a beat and worked tirelessly to find substitutes, often making deliveries themselves when none could be found, procuring and distributing the supplies to volunteers, and creating routes to meet the increased demand for meals. One month later, they continue to sign up new clients and coordinate deliveries of meals ensuring that no homebound senior in our program goes hungry. If asked, this team would say that they’re just doing their job. We say hunger doesn’t stop and neither does this rock star team.

CCC Transportation Authority Link Drivers Keep the Wheels Turning

As of April 6th, we began delivering seven frozen meals rather than a daily hot meal. We understood that the volume of meals delivered in a day would create yet another challenge, but Contra Costa County Transportation Authority’s County Connection bus service came to the rescue. Buses that were sitting idle are now transporting delivery volunteers across Contra Costa County and coolers filled with a week’s worth of frozen meals five days a week. They are driven by 16 Bus drivers who readily volunteered for Meals on Wheels duty. On a recent ride along with bus driver Gonzalo Garcia, it was apparent that he is taking his new role seriously. He happily loaded his bus with 14 heavy coolers and made sure to stand outside of the bus at every stop and watch while the volunteer took the meals to the doors. He waited for the seniors to open their doors so that he could give a quick wave from the sidewalk. “I feel good that I am able to help these elderly people. We can’t forget about them.”

C.C. Cafe Doors are Shuttered for Now But Meals Haven’t Gone Away

Our C.C. Cafès are a social lifeline for many seniors throughout the County and often provide the only hot meal that they will eat in a day. Social distancing has temporarily suspended sit-down meals at all six cafés. C.C. Café Specialist, Bonnie Paulson and her team of café managers went into action to fill the gap. While the cafès are temporarily shuttered, café guests and new participants can now receive a seven-day meal pack that includes a loaf of bread and milk. Orders are taken via phone and coordinated carefully for each site – a monumental task to say the least. For those that are mobile, drive-up sites for pick-up are conveniently located in the cafè parking lots and where volunteer drivers can also pick them up for delivery to homebound seniors. The social aspect that seniors enjoy might be temporarily suspended, but the nutritional meals continue to be provided with a generous helping of care and devotion.

Rain, Shine, or Life-Threatening Pandemic – Our Volunteers Answer the Call

Despite the risk to their own health many of our volunteers have kept coming. They continue to deliver meals (without going inside) and contribute to an extensive network of check-ins (by phone) so that the 1,200 seniors they serve can remain in their homes. They are adhering to new stricter protocols that limit their personal contact with clients—interaction that’s often the essence of their service. They don masks, gloves and carry heavier packages loaded with seven meals instead of one or two. Our awesome volunteers continue to shine their light on seniors in need and the community in the darkness of uncertainty and fear.

Last month life as we know it was upended. In the face of the coronavirus pandemic a team of champions has risen up to guarantee that the comfort and care of our elderly clients continues with minimal disruption. Creating order from chaos – that’s what heroes do.

Volunteer program

We at MOW Diablo Region are overwhelmed with gratitude for all of the requests that have been pouring in to join our volunteer program. Thank you to everyone who recognizes the ongoing and growing need of at risk seniors. With temporary changes to our meal delivery processes and suspensions of in-home visits by friendly visitors, the opportunities have become more limited for now. We are currently reviewing volunteer opportunities that work with social distancing protocols and safer at home recommendations. Our incredible team of volunteer coordinators will continue to process applications and are working hard to contact everyone in a timely manner. Please bear with us as we navigate this “new normal” while keeping the high level of service that our senior clients deserve.

For more information on how to donate or volunteer, visit mowdiabloregion.org

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