DRIVEN TO HELP: Meals on Wheels celebrates 20th anniversary in Hancock County

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Volunteer driver Linda Jones prepares to depart for her delivery route for Meals on Wheels. The organization, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in Hancock County, has seen a surge in new clients since the pandemic began. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — As a longtime Meals on Wheels volunteer, Sharon Porter has delivered thousands of meals throughout Hancock County over the last 20 years.

In fact, her service dates all the way back to the founding of the local Meals on Wheels of Hancock County program, which launched on Jan. 1, 2001.

The local agency is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, at a time when more people seem to need its services more than ever before.

“In 2020 we had a 66% increase in clients and went well over 100 clients a day, which was unprecedented for us,” said April Allford, public relations and marketing coordinator for Meals on Wheels of Hancock County.

The program now serves a record high 140 recipients throughout the county.

Allford attributes the program’s rapid growth to the financial fallout and changing circumstances caused by the pandemic, which has made food scarcity more prevalent over the past year.

“We want the people of Hancock County to know that our organization is here for them in case times have been tough, as they definitely have been for so many, and we will be here for another 20 years and more,” said the nonprofit’s executive director, Lynda Kosh.

Kosh said the nonprofit is willing to help those who struggle to access nutritious, consistent meals for themselves, and not just the elderly.

“I think people knew it to be just for senior citizens, but we really don’t have an age limit. We just don’t serve children,” she said.

Some people sign up if they need some extra help following surgery, postpartum or due to other life circumstances. Some sign up for help on an ongoing basis, while others just need a temporary helping hand.

“We’re really trying to make sure the Hancock County community knows we’re here for any type of situation,” Kosh said.

Participants must submit a doctor’s prescription to participate before receiving meals, which are prepared at Hancock Regional Hospital. Special meals can be made for various dietary needs.

The cost to receive Meals on Wheels works out to $7.50 a day, which includes two meals — one hot, one cold — with desserts on Fridays.

Clients can choose how often they receive their meals, from one to five days a week, and can also order optional, reheatable weekend meals to be delivered on Fridays.

Most clients, like Carol Fletcher, opt to have meals delivered every day.

Fletcher’s children encouraged her to sign up for Meals on Wheels a couple years ago, since the 76-year-old Greenfield woman didn’t cook for herself anymore.

“I just appreciate the meals so much. It’s so convenient, since I don’t want to cook anymore,” she said.

Receiving the meals is also a dependable dose of human contact for seniors like her who live alone, she said. “It’s just nice having contact with somebody every day,” said Fletcher.

Meals on Wheels drivers used to knock on each client’s door and hand off their meals, but COVID has changed all that. Now they leave the meals in a cooler outside each client’s door, and call to let them know it’s there. The phone calls are the drivers’ way of keeping tabs on the clients. If a client doesn’t answer, or if a full cooler is left outside, the office is notified and someone is sent to follow up with them.

Porter enjoys the connections she’s made with those she’s delivered to over the years. “Everyone is really nice and very appreciative,” she said.

Mike and Ruth Allford have had the same experience. The retired Greenfield couple has been delivering Meals on Wheels for about two years now, volunteering two or three days a week.

They say it’s a great way for them to give back to the community.

“We have done several volunteer-type things since we retired, and it’s just something that helps those people who can’t get out,” Mike Allford said.

His wife feels the same. “We both feel like it’s important to give back a little bit, and the people we deliver to really seem to appreciate it, which is kind of an extra bonus,” she said.

Kosh said it takes over 200 volunteers a month for the local Meals on Wheels to operate.

Volunteers can serve as much or as little as they like. Some deliver once a month, while others do so more frequently.

Each October, the nonprofit holds a volunteer appreciation breakfast, which was held as a drive-through breakfast this year.

On March 24, the agency will host its annual March for Meals event, during which community leaders are invited to serve, prepare or deliver meals to help raise awareness for the program as well as the growing number of seniors facing hunger and isolation

“This connects them with neighbors in our community and helps Meals on Wheels of Hancock County gain much-needed visibility,” Kosh said.

The pandemic has forced the nonprofit to shift its 20th anniversary celebration plans. Its annual golf tournament and designer purse bingo events have been postponed.

Boots and Bourbon, the organization’s biggest annual fundraiser, has been postponed from April to August.

“We’re finding we’re going to have to be really creative in 2021, especially with virtual celebrations and virtual fundraising,” said April Allford. “Hopefully with vaccinations happening, we can one day get everybody together to celebrate.”

Allford has been grateful to see the community’s outpouring support for Meals on Wheels, despite the postponement of in-person fundraisers and events. A holiday mailer late last year generated $10,000 in donations, compared to the average of $4,000 raised from a similar mailer in years past.

New volunteers are also coming on board to support the growing number of clients, although more volunteers are always needed and welcome.

“We weren’t sure what to expect this year, but we’ve definitely been pleasantly surprised and proud of the community for stepping up,” said Allford.

To learn more about the program, visit mealsonwheelsonline.org.

To join the March for Meals Community Champions Week or to volunteer, contact Allford at 317-477-4345.

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Meals on Wheels of Hancock County — founded on Jan. 1, 2001 — is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

The nonprofit delivered more than 30,000 meals last year alone, to adults of all ages.

The agency now serves 140 clients throughout the county, thanks to a corps of more than 200 volunteers.

Clients pay $7.50 per day for meal delivery, which includes one hot meal and one cold meal per day. Friday delivery of meals for the weekend are also available.

For information, visit mealsonwheelsonline.org.

To register or volunteer, call 317-477-4345.

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