Wheels For Service: Keeping the vulnerable fed during COVID, and all yearJan 24, 2021 01:08PM ● By GINA BIRCH
Food delivery services are more popular than ever because of COVID-19, but there’s none quite like Fort Myers-based Community Cooperative’s Meals on Wheels program. It provides daily, nutritious meals to Lee County residents (and some Collier County residents) who are homebound and can’t cook for themselves.
Community Cooperative is also known as CCMI—or simply “the soup kitchen.” CCMI’s Meals on Wheels program is a lifeline for seniors, the disabled, chronically ill adults and people who are recovering from surgery or sickness.
“I truly believe that Meals on Wheels is the most important human service program that exists for our elderly population,” explains Tracey Galloway, the chief executive officer of CCMI. “It’s often the only meal and the only human contact these individuals have each day.”
The soup kitchen was established in 1984, originally feeding the hungry after church on Sundays in downtown Fort Myers. Now hot meals are served daily, there is a food pantry, and a host of educational and outreach programs. The numbers of Southwest Floridians seeking the services of CCMI, many for the first time, has drastically increased as a result of COVID-19.
The pandemic has also had a huge impact on the Meals on Wheels program. Deliveries have increased 20 percent, to include more than 100,000 people. These are the highest numbers the program has ever seen. And CCMI has made a few adjustments to keep volunteers and clients safe when getting the meals to the most vulnerable population.
It temporarily cut back the frequency of deliveries but doubled up on the number of meals: Two meals are dropped off on Mondays and Wednesdays, and three on Fridays, to cover the weekend. In addition to daily meals, monthly groceries are also provided for some shut-ins who are in need. Many live with only a dog or cat for companionship and CCMI makes sure four-legged family members do not go hungry.
Also on wheels are CCMI’s mobile food pantries. These trucks offer a way to get fresh produce and other nutritious foods into areas where residents have limited access to grocery stores. Even if they did have access to stores, many have severely limited funds to purchase produce, dairy and other items that comprise a healthful diet.
Whether it’s the mobile food pantries or Meals on Wheels, the majority of those who benefit from these programs have no or very little ability to pay. Donations and volunteers are what keep these and all of CCMI’s programs running.
Galloway says, “Without Meals on Wheels, thousands of Southwest Florida senior citizens who are homebound or otherwise unable to provide for themselves would be at risk of hunger, malnutrition and extreme isolation. This program allows our elderly neighbors to age with grace and dignity in their own homes.”
People can assist Meals on Wheels by donating time to help prepare, pack or deliver meals. Giving funds ensures that Meals on Wheels is always available for those who need it.