Since 1991, Meals on Wheels has been serving the home-bound population, seniors, or just anyone in need of an easy-to-fix meal, throughout the Scottsbluff/Gering areas and COVID-19 is not slowing them down.
For some people, the service is an essential part of their lives, especially if it’s hard for them to cook or to stand for a long period of time.
Toby Wolfe of Scottsbluff is one of them. She got in touch with the program after a major accident last year.
“After that big blizzard last March, I stepped out onto the porch and didn’t realize there was ice under the snow,” Wolfe said. "I fell and hit my head, which broke two vertebrae in my neck.”
She was in the hospital and in rehab until late May and said she was fortunate the doctors were able to put her back together to where she could get around with some assistance from a walker.
Wolfe and her husband Mel get Meals on Wheels delivered Monday through Friday. Meals are prepared at Regional West Medical Center under supervision by dietitians, so Wolfe knows they’re always nutritionally balanced and heart healthy. She’s especially fond of the meatloaf.
“I don’t know what I would do without their service,” she said. “I can no longer stand at the counter long enough to cook, something I loved to do in the past.”
The Meals on Wheels program is more than delivering meals to those in need. It’s also an opportunity for drivers to check on their clients and to visit for a few minutes.
“One or two of the drivers will automatically open my mailbox and bring the mail in along with the meals,” Wolfe said. “They make sure we’re all right and maybe chat about the weather. The other day, one of the drivers brought her little girl along, as the kids are out of school.”
An average 110 driving teams deliver Meals on Wheels on weekdays every month. They come from all walks of life. Two of them are a husband/wife team: Steve and Cyndie Schwartz.
Cyndie has been delivering meals for about 10 years.
“My mother had delivered for Meals on Wheels in her community,” she said. “So when I retired and couldn’t spend time with her, I decided to do something she enjoyed. And it’s important to deliver balanced meals to people who might not have that available otherwise.”
Coordinated through the Scotts Bluff County Volunteer Center and the hospital, community members are able to serve meals to nearly 100 people throughout the community.
Shanna Halstead, executive director of the Scotts Bluff County Volunteer Center, said that Meals on Wheels, along with the Shopping for Seniors and the Snow Angels program and home delivered commodities all assure the food needs of vulnerable populations are covered throughout the year.
In addition, Meals on Wheels drivers delivered some 500 Thanksgiving meals during the annual Thanksgiving in the Valley event.
“We offer more than just food. People are isolated and lonely today, so they forge great friendships with our Meals on Wheels drivers,” Halstead said. “Our drivers are so great to look after them. It’s awesome to have someone watching out for you. I’m truly blessed to be working with such a group of caring people.”
She added that without all the volunteers, hospital staff and financial assistance from the United Way, the program wouldn’t exist.
For people who frequent their local senior centers for noon meals, there have been some changes there as well due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Cheryl Brunz, executive director of the Aging Office of Western Nebraska, said the agency usually offers both congregate meals and home delivery at all of the Panhandle’s 20 senior centers.
“We’ve eliminated the congregate meals due to the coronavirus threat,” she said. “In its place, we’ve established curbside service where people can drive up to their local senior center for a to-go meal. Staff will reach in the passenger side window of the vehicle and set a meal on the passenger seat.”
Home delivery of meals will continue, but drivers will hang a bag containing the meal on the door of people signed up for the service.
“We’ll knock twice so they know it’s us and then we go back to our vehicles and wait for them to pick it up, Cheryl said. “We make sure we see them so we know they’re all right.”
She added there are no activities going on at any of the senior centers. The aging office is also closed, so the staff isn’t visiting clients. However, they make weekly calls to clients to assure they’re healthy and have everything they need.