Delivering nutrition and conversation
Stay at home orders drive community to volunteer for Meals on Wheels of Hendricks County
By Stephanie Dolan
As the population ages, things often get harder. Basic needs and necessities can go from molehills to mountains, and preparing a meal can become a problem for many seniors who live alone. This is where Meals on Wheels of Hendricks County comes in. With routes running daily and staffed by more than 100 volunteers, senior citizens across Hendricks County receive hot meals that they may not have had otherwise.
Behind the scenes with those deliveries and meal prep, Avon’s Sue Cox acts as the director of Meals on Wheels of Hendricks County.
“I would say maybe 85% of our volunteers deliver on the same schedule every month, and the rest deliver based on availability,” she said. “Since the onset of COVID-19, I’ve probably recruited 15 new volunteers because more people are working from home, and people have more time to spend and they want to help. It’s been amazing how easy it’s been to get all my routes covered every month. Sometimes a bad situation brings out the good in people.”
Cox has never known an organization to have such dedicated volunteers.
Volunteers’ average age falls between 60 and 70, those most susceptible to the virus.
“We’ve had volunteers that have been delivering for 20 years,” she said. “I had a couple of volunteers who chose to step away for a little while. However, 95% of our volunteers said they wanted to keep delivering.”
Volunteers develop relationships with many of the people to whom they deliver, which has made this time of lockdown very difficult for everyone on an emotional level.
“I joined Meals on Wheels not only to deliver daily meal service but to meet and in some cases befriend the people who receive our service,” said volunteer Vic Bandini.
A Meals on Wheels driver might be the only person a meal recipient contacts that day, Bandini said. Volunteers don’t just drop off food. They might bring in the mail, carry trash bags to the curb or assist in setting up lunch.
“Spending a few minutes talking with them, inquiring about family, past experiences, etc., really brightens their day,” Bandini said. “It’s great to be cheerful, upbeat and personally interested in everyone, and it’s worth remembering that no matter today’s circumstances, they all had a previous life. Without fail, everyone says, ‘Thank you.’”
For Lowell Abbe, receiving the meals blesses him.
“I’ll be 78 in the next couple of months, and I’ve been taking care of my cousin who has emphysema and cancer,” Abbe said. “The meals are very nutritious. They have a dietician who lays out the menus. They’re dependable, and you can set your watch by them. Sue Cox is a real people person. She tries to do all she can.”
Abbe noted that Meals on Wheels volunteers even provided masks for clients in need.
“With the pandemic we were having a tough time getting the masks,” he said. “CVS always seemed to be out. Sue and other volunteers made some masks, and they brought some to us. They’re reusable. They’re wonderful people – caring and an asset to the whole senior community and to healthcare itself.”
Abbe said he’s grateful to have Meals on Wheels and the people who help with the program.
“It’s been a blessing to the whole county, especially senior citizens,” he said. “It’s not so easy to get to the grocery store all the time and get the food you need. You can at least count on getting a good meal Monday through Friday. It really brightens the day up.”
Throughout stay at home orders during the pandemic, volunteers have dramatically scaled back their contact with clients. They have shifted from spending quality time with many of them to leaving the food outside in coolers to maintain social distancing.
Vetern volunteer Mary Murphy has delivered meals for a dozen years and has had a few clients sit and chat to her through an open window throughout the pandemic.
“I need it as much as they do,” Murphy said, noting that social contact provides as much nutrition sometimes as the meals.
“Meals on Wheels is very rewarding for me, especially when I can stop for a moment and talk with a client,” she said. “I really enjoy getting to know the clients. I keep doing it because it is a great resource in the community.”
Murphy credits Cox for keeping volunteers and clients engaged and accommodating volunteer schedules.
Grant money has also helped the meals deliveries continue throughout the coronavirus pandemic. The Hendricks COunty Community Foundation reached out because the group is on “That allowed us to purchase coolers and ice packs so that every single one of our clients could have coolers and ice packs,” Cox said.
Meals on Wheels of Hendricks County recently received a $10,000 grant from United Way.
“That will be a huge help because we never turn anyone away because of the cost of meals,” said Cox who noted at one point 15% of clients needed help covering meal costs. “Either a client privately pays, their meal is paid for by CICOA or their meal is paid for by Medicaid. We always deliver. This $10,000 grant has helped us offset the cost for those who didn’t fall within those categories.”
“We’ve had numerous organizations and individuals sending us donations,” Cox said. “We have been very fortunate to have community support through this.”
To volunteer or to get more information on meal delivery, visit hendricks.org/mealsonwheels to complete an online application.
Do you have any pets? Yes, a golden retriever that we adopted last summer, Chief.
What’s your favorite TV Show? “Seinfeld”
What’s your favorite movie? “Mamma Mia!”
What have you read most recently? “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail”
What is your favorite Hendricks County charity? The senior center (Hendricks County Senior Services) because I think they do so many great things for the aging population. What they have done during COVID-19 because their facility is shut down is incredible, live feeds with cooking demonstrations and exercise. I think it’s great.
Who or what inspires you? Michelle Obama inspires me. She has a giving heart and wants to find the good in things. She’s constantly trying to encourage young people to get involved. I love to see young people get involved with Meals on Wheels. We have Girl Scout troops and afterschool programs that decorate bags and help us deliver. I love seeing that.