By Debbie Adams
For 30 years, the LOA has conducted the annual “Let’s Do Lunch” fundraiser in June to benefit the Meals on Wheels program. Each year the event involves a luncheon with entertainment, usually featuring acclaimed vocalist Jane Powell along with William Penn and Friends. Last year’s sold-out event was held at North Roanoke Baptist Church and raised over $80,000 for Meals on Wheels.
In a typical year, the LOA has helped more than 8oo seniors live healthier and safer in their own homes with dedicated volunteers providing friendly visits, well-being checks, and more than 124,000 meals. The LOA mission is “to help older people remain independent for as long as possible.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to cancellation of this year’s event, but not of the fundraiser, which has been renamed “Let’s Give Lunch” for 2020.
In past years, the $15 tickets for the event provided a boxed-lunch meal for the purchaser plus two more meals for homebound seniors in the program. In this unprecedented year, tickets purchased will be used entirely to benefit Meals on Wheels recipients.
“We can’t ‘do lunch’ with friends and family like we used to,” is the LOA message. “And the safety and well-being of our staff, volunteers, and supporters is far too precious to jeopardize in any way–especially when our vulnerable and elderly patrons need our help and protection now more than ever.
“Even during this historic pandemic, LOA is committed to continuing to provide all our critical services. We hold our staff and volunteers in such high esteem, realizing their tireless efforts. Many are doing “double duty,” willingly ready to unload deliveries, deliver emergency bag meals, Meals on Wheels and food boxes, as well as doing ‘pickups’ wherever we can find supplies.
“LOA was there before COVID-19; we are there fighting on the front lines now; and we will still be there once life returns to ‘normal,’ but we need your help.
“’Let’s Do Lunch’ has truly never been about the meals we sell–it has always been in the spirit of giving. Many people have told us they buy the lunches even if they may not be in the office that day or already have a lunch meeting.
“It’s about the meals it allows us to give to those who need them–not the ones you receive,” is this year’s message from LOA. “This year we are asking you a simple question. Will you help us and…Let’s GIVE Lunch? This year, we may not fill your belly, but we can fill your soul as you share the blessings you have been given with others.”
A $15 donation buys three wholesome, healthy meals for those in need—but no gift is too small.
This year’s “Let’s Give Lunch” virtual event will allow LOA to maintain social distancing and extend the time beyond a single day, while providing for the safety of their staff, their volunteers, and local supporters.
Meals on Wheels is available to homebound seniors, age 60 and older, who are residents of the LOA’s service area (Virginia’s Fifth Planning District). The senior must be unable to prepare a nutritious mid-day meal with no one available or willing to prepare the meal for them. Spouses and disabled dependents, regardless of age, may also qualify. This helps alleviate caregiver stress and worry.
Marye Brooks is the coordinator for the Meals on Wheels program serving over 70 individuals in Vinton and parts of Southeast and Northeast Roanoke. Her office is located at Vinton Baptist Church. Many Meals of Wheels distribution offices throughout the area are housed in organizations, agencies, and churches.
Brooks says that Vinton Baptist has been very generous in providing office space for the program and that Pastor Travis Russell and his congregation are devoted to community outreach ministries such as Meals on Wheels.
Canteen Vending drops prepared meals off at Vinton Baptist (and all other Meals on Wheels sites) where they are picked up by the over 50 volunteers who distribute the meals—some once a month, some on a weekly basis.
Meals are currently dropped off Monday through Thursday, rather than each weekday as in pre-COVID-19 times. This lessens contact between volunteers and seniors receiving meals by one day each week and potential exposure to the coronavirus. Brooks says that the relative “isolation of the seniors in the program stands them in good stead right now.”
The volunteers take the safety precautions of wearing masks and gloves in delivering the meals. They generally leave the meals just inside the door these days to lessen the duration of contact and the proximity to the recipients, staying at a distance of six feet-–but checking to make sure the senior comes to the door.
One main focus of the Meals on Wheels program has always been providing wellness checks on their clients. Now that the volunteers aren’t delivering on Fridays, they call their Meals on Wheels participants on Friday to make sure they are doing well.
Another component of Meals on Wheels is Pets Eat Too. In partnership with the Roanoke Valley SPCA, the LOA utilizes donated pet food to assist Meals on Wheels recipients and their furry friends. Recipients who are pet owners get a weekly allotment of pet food (for dog or cat) delivered to them along with their meals.
Other agencies are contributing to the Meals on Wheels program during this difficult time to ensure that those who need assistance are well-nourished. Feeding America Southwest Virginia is providing about 400 Food Commodities Boxes to LOA each month, containing about 35 pounds of food each. The “Takeout Hunger” program has been raising money to provide hot meals to local needy families, including seniors with the Meals on Wheels program. The meals are purchased entirely from local restaurants—benefitting those receiving the meals and the restaurants preparing them.
“We are equally thankful for all the businesses who have supported us along with all the wonderful support we always get from the community at large,” said the LOA staff.
Brooks has been in her position with Meals on Wheels for about nine years.
She recently composed a poem for these difficult times:
In these uncertain times
fear can be overwhelming
with frustration and anger
that your world has grown smaller.
This is just a new normal
driven by circumstance that’s threatening
its rapid spread and danger
becoming the distance in your daily life…
and when all this is behind you
another new normal will be born.
Your mission since birth
hasn’t changed in any moment…
it’s to take care of yourself
to be mindful of your actions
and their far-reaching consequences.
When you keep yourself safe,
you keep those around you safe.
May you remember that love
is the best no contact touch of all…
it’s said in pictures and memories
and looks and words
and in hearts connected forever.
-Marye Brooks, 2020
Visit https://www.loaa.org/event/letsgivelunch/ for more information, including how to donate to “Let’s Give Lunch,” a list of donated raffle items you can bid on, and a link to their Facebook page for the week of events from June 22 through June 26.
Information on how to participate in Meals on Wheels as a client or to become a volunteer is available at www.loaa.org.