Photo via Unsplash.
Photo via Unsplash.

In this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, elderly and homebound residents across the Albany Diocese need help now more than ever.

The Schenectady County Meals on Wheels program has made sure their vulnerable and elderly residents are cared for, even as client numbers continue to rise.

“Everybody is still getting the food they needed as they had before for either five or seven days a week,” said Marlene Hildenbrandt, executive director of Catholic Charities Senior and Caregiver Support Services. The Meals on Wheels program, which delivers nutritious meals to the homebound and elderly who are in greatest economic need, has been part of Catholic Charities since 1975.

To adapt to COVID-19, the Meals on Wheels delivery model was reduced to three days a week instead of the usual five. Across those three days, residents are provided food for five days, supplementing with frozen meals in between deliveries. Any clients who were receiving weekend meals are receiving frozen meals for that as well.

“Mondays we deliver a hot meal that day and a frozen meal for the next day, and then the same thing on Wednesday — a hot meal and a frozen meal for the next day,” Hildenbrandt said, “and on Friday there are only a few people receiving weekend meals and those people are continuing to get frozen meals for the weekend.”

Hildenbrandt noted that since the outbreak “people are adding on every day” to the program.

“The requests have gone from none to four in a day,” she said. “This past Monday, we added four new people alone, and just yesterday with the staff checking calls and getting back to people, it’s pretty much every day we’re adding at least one person at this point.”

Hildenbrandt attributed part of the increase to homebound residents who previously received food from family or close friends but now can’t with the state’s stay-at-home and quarantine orders. Other elderly residents, she said, might just be afraid to go outside.

“People have been able to get by or their family has been able to accommodate getting food to them or they’ve been comfortable going out, but as time goes on and the fear goes up, it’s more of a challenge to continue to survive on their own.”

In addition to new clients, drivers have adapted to “no contact” deliveries, ensuring that social distancing measures are kept when dropping off meals.
“While part of our program was always checking on people every day, at this point our drivers are approaching the residents, knocking on the door, taking a step back and waiting for a response to know that the person is in there,” Hildenbrandt said.

Drivers are provided gloves and masks to reduce the risk of infection during deliveries. Even with routes growing every day, drivers have continued to show up for their clients.

“I can’t say enough good things about the drivers for what they’ve been doing,” Hildenbrandt said. “They have been steadfast in the work they’ve been doing since the very beginning. There’s been no hesitancy, no questions.”

“Some of these drivers have been delivering meals to these people for five, 10 years,” she added, “it’s part of their family, so they’ve not hesitated at all.”

For additional information on the program call (518) 688-0051, or contact Catholic Charities Senior & Caregiver Support Services at 518-372-5667.