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Cayuga County Office for the Aging: Meal program volunteers vital during pandemic

Cayuga County Office for the Aging: Meal program volunteers vital during pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in all of us having to stay at home, isolate and maintain our distance from friends, family, neighbors and colleagues. We had to forgo the graduation ceremonies, the day trips and the Friday nights out. I think at some point we all felt the loneliness and isolation regardless of the great attempts at virtual connection and creative ways to stay in touch.

Our temporary isolation is a persistent way of life for many Cayuga County senior residents. They live alone and are homebound. They have mobility issues that prevent them from easily getting out. They have fewer and fewer friends and family members available to give them support. The only face many vulnerable, at-risk seniors see each day, each week, is the volunteer driver who delivers a meal for the Cayuga County Office for the Aging Senior Nutrition Program. When the rest of the world was put on hold, this vital program did not skip a beat, or a delivery day.

There are approximately 70 individuals who volunteer for the Meals on Wheels program. Drivers choose their level of involvement when they volunteer for Meals on Wheels. They deliver solo or with a partner. They drive once a week, daily, or only as a substitute. Drivers choose whether to deliver along city streets or country roads on rural routes. No matter their commitment, they deliver a difference. It is so much more than delivering a hot noontime meal. Volunteers provide vital social interaction, a warm smile and a safety check.

Drivers feel deep satisfaction in this volunteer experience, realizing they make a significant impact on their clients.

“It’s one of the most rewarding things I have done,” said one.

Our drivers deliver so clients like Anthony can provide healthy lunches as he lovingly cares for his wife Joyce, who has dementia. Our drivers deliver so Margaret’s arthritis doesn’t keep her from eating nutritious meals. Meals on Wheels assures her of a wholesome, hot meal every day. Mary’s cancer treatments prevent her from eating well. The meal delivery provides ground food that meets her special dietary needs, and comforts her family, who knows the driver is putting eyes on their loved one every day. Even with the barrier of a mask and contactless delivery, these meal recipients value the cheerful greeting, along with the bag of food placed within reach. They appreciate the nutritionally sound, hot midday meal delivery. They value the informal safety check-in and follow-up by Cayuga County Office for the Aging staff members when there is a concern for their well-being.

There is certainly a mutually beneficial relationship between the volunteers and the clients in the program. One meal client said, “thank you so much for your wonderful program. It has been a godsend to me. A wonderful help in my aging years.” Another recipient praised the kind and thoughtful volunteer, and said the meals are a great help since she is unable to cook a full meal anymore. Coming from someone who has had the privilege of filling in as a substitute on a meal route, you know as soon as you see the person’s face, you are delivering so much more than the meal.

The Meals on Wheels program promotes better health through improved nutrition, socialization, health and nutrition education, and supportive services. All participants receive initial and annual visits by our staff to review needs and monitor satisfaction with the program. Programs such as Meals on Wheels reduce the risk of falls and hospitalizations, and promote the overall goal to keep older adults at home as long as possible.

Volunteers are a vital component to this program. In 2020 alone, the Senior Nutrition Program volunteers worked a total of 6,875 hours, delivering 75,103 meals to over 559 Cayuga County residents. If placed into monetary terms, the volunteers contributed $85,937.50 to the community. A sincere, heartfelt thank you to our volunteers who deserve recognition not only for going above and beyond day in and day out for our most vulnerable in the community, but for their unwavering dedication during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer for Meals on Wheels, please contact us by phone at (315) 253-1104 or email at

Danielle Schneider is an aging services specialist with Cayuga County Office for the Aging. For more information, call (315) 253-1226 or visit


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