Meals on Wheels Services Confront Rising Needs Caused By COVID-19

'We are seeing a huge increase in needs,' says Amy Towery, the vice president of development at Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee.

By Cooper Levey-Baker March 20, 2020

Meals on Wheels of Sarasota of volunteers prepare meals.

Meals on Wheels of Sarasota typically prepares around 600 meals each day and delivers them to 900 or so individuals each month. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, those numbers are rising.

"We are absolutely seeing an increase in numbers," says executive director Marjorie Broughton. Meals on Wheels of Sarasota brings healthy, 1,100-calorie meals to those in the Sarasota area who can't prepare a meal for themselves. The nonprofit typically adds between 45 and 55 new clients, net, each month. "In March, I have already exceeded 45, gross, and I've got another half-month to go," Broughton says.

As the coronavirus continues to spread, those numbers may continue to rise, as well. "I could easily be serving 700 meals a day next month, and 800 meals a day the next month," Broughton says.

In Manatee County, the situation is similar. "We are seeing a huge increase in needs," says Amy Towery, the vice president of development at Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee, which serves homebound and disabled individuals in Manatee County.

According to Towery, the organization is already beginning to get calls from people who have been laid off because of closures caused by the spread of the coronavirus. Meals on Wheels PLUS has also been forced to suspend its Friendship Dining program, which brings seniors together for group meals; many of those individuals now need home delivery services.

Broughton says only a handful of the Sarasota organization's volunteers have ceased delivering meals because of worries about catching the virus. The nonprofit has instituted a series of new procedures to reduce personal contact and heightened its sanitation rules. Even the pens that volunteers use are getting a wipe-down.

Meals on Wheels drivers don't just provide food. During drop-off, they also check the safety and cleanliness of clients' homes, and provide a point of human contact for people who may be isolated, a pressing need in the new era of social distancing.

In addition to offering meal deliveries, Meals on Wheels PLUS also operates The Food Bank of Manatee, which is providing bags with enough food for breakfast, lunch and dinner for families of five for a weekend. That service augments a school district program that offers all kids 18 or younger a free lunch during spring break.

Broughton emphasizes that Meals on Wheels doesn't just serve people who are permanently homebound. Many clients simply need short-term help to get by. Meals on Wheels of Sarasota asks for a $6 donation for its meals, but 75 percent of its clients pay nothing, and the organization will adjust the $6 donation based on a client's income and needs. The organization is committed to meeting the rising needs of a community affected by COVID-19.

"We intend to serve every person who calls us and needs a meal," says Broughton.

If you live in the Sarasota area and need assistance or would like to volunteer or donate to Meals on Wheels, contact Meals on Wheels of Sarasota by calling (941) 366-6693 or by visiting the organization's website. In Manatee County, contact Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee by calling (941) 747-4655 or by visiting the organization's website.

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