Recorded Dec. 4, 2020; broadcast on Dec. 10, 2020.
JoNetta Weaver is the executive director of Meals on Wheels of Columbia. She spoke about how the organization continues to offer hot meals to people in need, and about how they’ve had to tackle another health crisis during the ongoing pandemic – loneliness in the senior community.
Reporter, Missouri Health Talks
Executive Director, Meals on Wheels of Columbia
JoNetta Weaver: We knew that our people needed to have contact – that loneliness is just as fatal as a pandemic. So, we have to know that they're being taken care of.
So, we initiated what we're calling – a program that's just “Operation Loneliness,” and we make sure that in the course of a two-week timeframe, we make sure that we have had an interaction with every one of our clients. If we have not seen them, then we make a phone call, and we just talk to them and say, you know, “How are you doing? Is everything okay? We're just checking on you.”
We always know if some of our people don't have emergency contacts – [we’re] checking on them. That's part of the thing when we enroll them. We find that information out. So, we know who our people are that are most vulnerable to loneliness, and those are the ones that we, you know, are definitely checking.
In addition to that we have implemented some – some really just small gestures that really try to help them understand they are not being forgotten. That we are here for them.
Those can include stickers on their meals. They can include little gifts. We have a lady in our community, Bridget, who has made a little small gift – whether it's a tea bag or a bookmark or a napkin holder – just something every single month. So, we have a gift that goes out to them once a month.
We also have cards that are being sent, and we have just a lot of different little things like that, that are part of this program to really watch that [loneliness].
In March, when we realized that we were going to have to, you know, shut down as far as the community is concerned – I immediately lost 40% of my driving force because they needed to shelter in place. So, that could shut us down. You know, when you think about that…
So, we had alternate plans as to how we could combine routes and how we could keep going, to make that happen, but we also sent out a request from the community and said, “We need help. Right now.”
And you know that those 40 drivers that needed to stay home were replaced immediately – within two weeks – with 39 brand new people. The community just jumped to the opportunity. People that maybe were working from home now had that opportunity. People that had been wanting to do, you know, help with Meals on Wheels, took it as “This is my time. This is when I need to do that.”
So, maybe it makes us a lot more sensitive to the needs of some of our seniors here in Columbia, and I think that's always a good thing – when we can help them. We'll make sure that they're getting what they need through the holidays and then in January, because we know those two months are going to be tough for loneliness.
This piece was reported and produced by Chris Mitchell.
Copyright 2017 KBIA and The University of Missouri. Development and Design by Nathan Lawrence.