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Pandemic amplifies growth at Meals on Wheels of Greater Lynchburg

Pandemic amplifies growth at Meals on Wheels of Greater Lynchburg

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With rapid recent growth and adjustments to make during the pandemic, volunteers with Meals on Wheels of Greater Lynchburg are pushing through to get recipients the food they need in a way that keeps everyone safe.

The pandemic was already posing a new set of challenges for the nonprofit, according to Executive Director Kris Shabestar — more than 200 of its volunteers started to step back because of their own health and safety concerns. At the same time, new requests for meal delivery services ramped up.

Meals on Wheels volunteers deliver hot meals to people with disabilities, the homebound and others. Volunteers not only bring food but also serve as a point of face-to-face contact for Meals on Wheels clients, checking on their general wellbeing.

“Since March 1 through September 1, we received over 225 applications for new service and we put 219 new recipients onto our routes, generally serving them a meal the next day — the day after they called,” Shabestar said. “…In the last 20 months to today, we’ve grown 56%.”

Volunteer applications began to pour in, too. Since March, Shabestar said Meals on Wheels has started 150 new volunteers on routes, delivering to their growing cohort. And some volunteers who stepped back have rejoined, taking precautions to help keep themselves and meal recipients healthy.

Bob Lockridge, who’s been volunteering for the nonprofit for eight years, said he and his wife felt comfortable delivering through the coronavirus pandemic, wearing masks and using plenty of hand sanitizer along the way.

A former physician, Lockridge said casual conversations about sports or other small talk with those on his route slowly morphed into questions about how they’ve been feeling. He believes that some of the jump in delivery clients is because they’re concerned about the virus and are trying to avoid trips to the store.

“I don’t think we realized how many vulnerable people there are out there,” he said.

Others might have family from out of town who are encouraging them to stay safe.

“What I’ve seen is not only the requirements for the mask and the sanitization and how we’ve delivered the meal; the real thing is how we’ve grown so much,” he said.

There have been a few recent adjustments to delivery routes, too.

The nonprofit received a $28,300 grant in June to help pay for a used bus and new equipment to make delivery more efficient. The bus serves as a new meal pickup location for volunteers at Schewels Home Furniture Company off Timberlake Road for routes in that area, which Shabestar said will shorten delivery times once it enters into play later this month.

Other pickup locations are at Virginia Baptist Hospital, Rustburg Presbyterian Church and Canteen Services off Odd Fellows Road.

Grant money also went toward insulated meal bags and bag return lockers for more ease in delivery.

Even with the boost of volunteers and new equipment, Shabestar said the demand is still posing challenges — Meals on Wheels has seen an increase in food supply costs of almost $10,000 per month, she said.

“We’ve had so much growth in routes and in meals that we still need a great deal of volunteers,” she added.

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