Johnson County Area Agency on Aging seeking more volunteers as it resumes five-day-a-week hot-meal deliveries

After months of delivering frozen meals during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Johnson County Area Agency on Aging has gradually resumed delivery of hot meals as part of its program.

The agency had resumed delivery of hot meals for a day or two in the week starting in June, but Monday marks the first day the agency has returned to delivering a hot meal five days a week for participating county residents. Beginning March 23, the program had switched to delivering five frozen meals every Monday. The program has gradually brought back normal operations by adding more frequent deliveries throughout the week.

Known as Meals on Wheels, the home-delivery meals program serves between 550 and 575 county residents. Though services have looked different over the past several months, program staff said they’ve maintained stable operations.

“We are pretty proud of the fact that, since the pandemic has started, our home-delivery meal participants have not missed a single meal,” said Dan Goodman, director of the Johnson County Area Agency on Aging. “We’ve done some things to hopefully lower the risk for participants and our volunteers. We did make some adjustments to our processes and methods in order to get those meals out to meet the needs of them Monday through Friday, but they have received the meals that they wanted.”

Some of those changes include requiring program staff and volunteers to wear masks, asking everyone involved to complete self-assessments of their health prior to deliveries, providing sanitizing regimens as part of the delivery program, and offering only no-contact deliveries of meals.

With the temporary hiatus on knock-and-delivery service — a benefit for participants who have trouble getting to the front door — staff have asked participants to put a table outside of their homes where meals can be dropped off.

To make up for the no-contact delivery, Goodman said program staff and volunteers also follow up with participants in phone calls.

“In order to try to make up there where they’ve lost a little bit, we are routinely calling them to just check in on them, see how they’re doing… just to engage them in some conversation,” he said.

Additionally, program staff have supplied participants with three weeks’ worth of stable-shelf meals, in the event that COVID-19 restrictions create another temporary shutdown or otherwise disrupt services.

Goodman said a supply of stable-shelf meals was initially challenging to obtain, since similar programs across the country were ordering at the same time.

“We were worried because we wanted to get those in place before any kind of shutdown would happen,” he said. “I don’t think everyone across the nation was as lucky as we were.”

Johnson County seeking volunteers for meal-delivery program

Johnson County’s meal-delivery program has at least 550 participants on 58 routes across the county. The county has a base of 800 volunteers but is seeking more at this time. Photo courtesy Johnson County Area Agency on Aging.

The Johnson County Area Agency on Aging is seeking volunteers for its meal-delivery program. Hot meals are prepared in the program’s central kitchen in Olathe and then distributed to participants along 58 routes throughout Johnson County. Each route has 12 to 16 participants on it, so the program requires several pairs of hands to make it happen.

“I’m really proud of the team of staff that, dealing with unprecedented circumstances, are still able to serve our most vulnerable population in the county to make sure that they’re still getting the meals that they need during this time,” said Dyani Kallauner, nutrition program coordinator.

The program has a base of about 800 volunteers, but not all of them are active, and at one point during the shelter-in-place orders from Johnson County, volunteers were prohibited from deliveries as an added precaution.

“We wanted to make sure that we were doing everything we could to be safe, both for the participants that receive the meals and our volunteers, which a lot of them are retired themselves,” Goodman said.

Home-delivered meals provide more than just nutrition. They also serve as a socializing opportunity, especially for seniors who are even further isolated from neighbors, friends and loved ones because of health officials’ calls for social distancing.

“Our volunteers establish relationships with them,” Kallauner said. “They might see the same person every week, so over time, it ends up being a friendly face, which really helps with the impact of feeling lonely, especially during these times when they’re more isolated than ever.”