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For Eugene's Homebound, Meals On Wheels Is More Than Just A Hot Lunch

Tiffany Eckert

Meals on Wheels has been serving food to seniors in Lane County for nearly 50 years. The program isn’t only about delivery of a hot meal to the homebound. Volunteer drivers also provide crucial human contact and sometimes it’s been life-saving. The pandemic has created significant challenges but the nutrition program never stopped delivering.

It’s nearly 11:30 a.m. when Jordan Pickerel pulls into Genee Heinz’s driveway. He carefully puts insulated containers into a bag and heads toward the front door of her bright pink house.

“And she is super fun and super sweet and always nice to talk to,” Pickerel says.

He steps up onto the porch, opens the screen door, knocks and steps 6 feet back.

“Hi Genee, how are you?”

“Ok,” she says. “Oh that’s right, you're coming to do all that today.”

Heinz is 86 years old and says this is her first year to receive Meals on Wheels deliveries. She notices her bagged meal hanging on the doorknob.

“Oh, oh! What is that?”

Heinz opens the bag. “Here’s macaroni and cheese. A salad and they even got the salad dressing on the bottom. Corn today (yep) and a biscuit. This looks like peaches. Works out great!”

Credit Tiffany Eckert
On this day, Jordan Pickerel deliveres 15 hot meals to homebound seniors in the west Eugene area,

Heinz says Meals on Wheels helps round out her diet each day. She got a pacemaker last year.

“And I got my first shot,” Heinz says, smiling.

During the porch visit Heinz tells us she worked in lumber mills for most of her life. Since retirement, she’s volunteered in a neighborhood school as teacher’s aid and “grandma to 440 grandkids.” She says since the school shut-down, she misses the children a lot.

Credit Tiffany Eckert
The loading dock at FOOD for Lane County where MOW volunteers pick up the meals for delivery. 

So much has changed in a year -- including how Meals on Wheels operates in Eugene. Amber Friedman is Senior Nutrition Programs Manager for FOOD for Lane County.

Credit Tiffany Eckert
Amber Friedman manages the Senior Nutrition Programs with FOOD for Lane County. Here she is in the kitchen as volunteers prep meals.

“We quickly had to adapt and become a once a week, frozen meal delivery service from April until mid-July,” she says.

They also changed how they deliver meals. Now it’s ‘no physical contact.’ Masked volunteers keep it 6 to 10 feet across a porch.

Credit Tiffany Eckert
During Pandemic, Meals on Wheels delivery volunteers must stay 6 feet apart while visiting with homebound seniors.

“What that looks like for most people is we bring the meal to their porch. We leave it on a table or a chair. We knock. We back up 6 to 10 feet. We visit from across the porch,” Friedman says. “We’re not lingering, we’re not saying ‘hello’ to the cat, anymore. So, it’s a really different world.”

What hasn’t changed is the homebound client’s need for human contact. Standing in the driveway after another meal delivery, Jordan Pickerel explains.

“With COVID is just amplifies, doubles down that isolation,” says Pickerel. “So, a lot folks really do value that visit a lot. Cause, it’s just nice to interact with another human. On the day that we’re coming to deliver their meal, if something happens-- we’re kind of the lifeline.”

He starts his car and heads to the next meal delivery.

Amber Freidman says twice in the last two months, Meals on Wheels volunteers have requested emergency help for clients.

“We had a fellow, his driver noticed he wasn’t coming to the door- but his dog was barking, and this particular guy doesn’t go anywhere without his dog so we called 911,” she says. “They went out, got in. He had been on the floor since sometime around 7 o’clock the night before.”

Freidman says thankfully, the gentleman survived.

Credit Tiffany Eckert
The Meals on Wheels Subaru is used on some of the delivery routes.

One full year into the pandemic, Freidman says the volunteer roster for Meals on Wheels is full. They now have 23 delivery routes. Friedman says they also continue the popular program called Kibble on Wheels-- getting pet food to homebound clients.

“Once you get older it’s hard to lug around those bags of pet food and also to scrounge up the extra change for pet food sometimes,” she says. “So we just want to take a little bit of the burden off their shoulders.”

Meals on Wheels programs are partially funded through the federal Older Americans Act (OAA) and the rest of the budget is made up with local fundraising.  

Meals on Wheels operates in counties around Oregon. The program runs in 8 Lane County communities, delivered through FOOD for Lane County in the Eugene city limits and through Senior and Disabled Services/Lane Council of Governments in Springfield, Cottage Grove, Creswell, Oakridge, Junction City, Veneta and Florence.

Tiffany joined the KLCC News team in 2007. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked in a variety of media including television and daily print news. For KLCC, Tiffany reports on health care, social justice and local/regional news. She has won awards from Oregon Associated Press, PRNDI, and Education Writers Association.
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