Meals on Wheels in Erath County Sees Requests ‘Skyrocket'

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Meals on Wheels agencies across North Texas care for some of the area's most vulnerable population - homebound seniors who need a meal.

And, in Erath County, the coronavirus has brought a rush of clients.

"Our requests have skyrocketed. We've gone from serving 160 a day to over 200 people a day," said Elizabeth Johnson, executive director of Meals on Wheels of Erath County.

Instead of daily hot meals, though, clients now get a box of frozen meals to last the week. It's a necessary change in the coronavirus crisis.

"So that we could limit the opportunities for exposure for both our participants and our volunteers," Johnson explained.

The change, though, means clients are not seeing a volunteer every day, volunteers like Alejandro Bina.

"Since they're mostly by themselves, you get to hear stories. Sometimes, they wouldn't let you leave because they just wanted to keep on talking to you, and it was really fun hearing they're stories," said Bina, a recent college graduate.

So, the agency adapted again to fulfill another hunger: the hunger for human contact.

"We didn't want them feeling like we'd left them," Johnson said. "So we call them every single day on the phone and touch base with them and check and see how they're doing, if they need anything."

That phone call is something the nonprofit encourages all of us to do in our own lives.

"Take the time to go and talk to your grandparents or your parents if they're elderly so that they won't feel alone," said Bina who is among volunteers making the calls.

"Just because we can't be together physically doesn't mean we can't be together emotionally and we can't support one another," Johnson added.

The agency also just added a Friendly Visitors program, boosted by a $25,000 Project Innovation grant from the Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation.

"We are matching seniors with volunteers, and it's almost like a mentoring program. So they are matched by interests. and they get together once a week, and they get to visit and just develop a friendship," Johnson said. "We've struggled with our seniors being lonely and being socially isolated especially during the pandemic. And this has been a great boost for them."

Volunteers also grocery shop for seniors so they can stay home and stay safe.

"They don't have to be a Meals on Wheels participant. If they're a senior and they're concerned about going shopping, we have volunteers that are doing that for them," Johnson explained.

As Johnson thinks about the future, she worries about clients staying healthy and feeling like they're still connected to the community. And she hopes for better days ahead.

"When can we get back to seeing them every day," she said. "We are all ready to do that. Our clients and volunteers. We're ready to go back and do hot meals every day."

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