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Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland

Delivering much more than a meal.

With its More than a mealTM approach, Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland is breaking new ground in delivering services to seniors. Giant Food has supported this nonprofit organization through its Community Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good Programs.

Tell us about Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland.

We were started in 1960 by two groundbreaking women, Ernestine McCollum and Beatrice Strouse, who shared the conviction that nutritious meals for the aging and disabled was a genuine need in the Greater Baltimore area. They replicated a meal delivery program that originated in London after World War II. Our first meals were delivered on October 3, 1960.

Our mission is to enable people to live independently at home by providing nutritious meals, personal contact and related services. The service area we cover in Central Maryland includes Baltimore City and then Baltimore, Howard, Prince George’s, Montgomery, Hartford and Anne Arundel Counties.

What services do you provide to your community?

First, we do daily meal delivery, but that’s just the start of what we provide. When we were founded in 1960, we had just ten clients, but fast forward to 2022, and we’re delivering meals daily to anywhere from 2,400 to 2,500 clients.

In most cases, we’re delivering two meals a day, but in some areas, we’re delivering three meals to each client. We’ve seen the increased need post-Covid, and we have to roll with the need in our community. That’s our Monday through Friday delivery schedule, and then we provide extra meals, so folks have something to eat over the weekend. Clients can get anywhere from a four-pack to a six-pack of frozen food for the weekend.

Research has shown that daily nutritious meals deliver significant health benefits, lower healthcare costs, reduced insecurity and improved quality of life for seniors.

What sets your organization apart from others in your community?

Meal delivery is just the start of what we do. Our More than a meal™ approach—nutritious meals, personal contact, customized service planning, and safety-net services—distinguishes us from other home-delivered meal programs.

The personal contact that comes from our army of volunteers and our staff interacting with clients is invaluable. It provides an opportunity to talk to the seniors and see how things are going.

For example, Jess and I were delivering meals recently, and one older lady was somewhat disheveled coming down the stairs. She had fresh bruises and a scraped face. We immediately reported that to our social service staff through our Call Connections app, and they got her help right away. She had had a fall, but we also wanted to ensure she wasn’t being abused. So that is just one example of where we can connect with our More than a meal approach.

Another example of our approach is assisting seniors in navigating the deed system of older homes in Baltimore, something that is unique to the area. In Baltimore, you can own the house, but you don’t have a legitimate, government-issued deed. It can be a real problem, especially for seniors. We can provide resources, including access to attorneys and the appropriate municipalities, to resolve outstanding issues and ensure clients have a proper deed to their homes.

Then, through our HUBS (Housing Upgrades to Benefit Seniors) program, we’re able to make minor repairs to a senior’s home, such as fixing a broken staircase. With the change of seasons, we may notice that a client is bundled up when we make a delivery and find out that the heat has gone out in the house. We’re able to get them assistance to get the heat turned back on.

In a nutshell, what makes us unique is the consistency of talking to folks and then having wraparound services. We have partnerships with different city and county social service organizations. If there’s an issue, the senior can talk to us, and we can get the appropriate service connected to that individual. It’s the “no wrong door” approach. For someone older, it can be confusing to try and figure out where to go for help. We can steer them in the right direction, if not actually provide the specific service they need.

The personal contact that comes from our army of volunteers and our staff interacting with clients is invaluable.

Tell us a story that illustrates the good work of your organization.

Here’s a great example of our More than a meal approach:

Frederick H. is a 71-year-old resident of Westminster, MD. He’s had a very difficult year. His partner experienced rapidly declining health, and her son moved in with her. Fred was forced to move into an apartment with just Bebe, his beloved chihuahua mix.

After the move, Fred realized that he didn’t have enough to eat and was in near-constant pain due to a bad hip and shoulder. He was scared to death he wouldn’t have food for himself or Bebe. Fortunately, a person in his building told him about Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, and a counselor helped him to apply. Fred says of the experience, “I felt an overwhelming sense of relief that I was going to eat.”

Fred was very appreciative of the meals, but realized he needed help in other areas of his daily life, such as grocery shopping, feeding his dog and socialization. We set up Fred with the Grocery Assistance Program (GAP), Kibble Connection and Call Connections to address these concerns. Through GAP, Fred can connect with a dedicated volunteer shopper whom he loves working with. The Kibble Connection assures Bebe has the food she needs and enjoys. By speaking with his Call Connections volunteer each week, Fred feels a little less isolated.

Fred said, “I am so appreciative of everything Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland has given me. From the meals to my volunteers, I couldn’t thank you enough.”

What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?

I think it’s our double pivot as a result of Covid. The first pivot was responding to the great need that existed during Covid. The second is now pivoting away from Covid and responding to the increased need that now exists post-pandemic.

In March 2020, we served about 1,700 people with two hot meals daily. But then, all of a sudden, with Covid, we realized this model would not work. More seniors than ever were homebound and food insecure due to stay-at-home orders and senior center closures. So, we went to frozen meals once a week in addition to the hot meals and started serving more than 20,000 meals a week. Eventually, we figured out a way to deliver 75,000 meals weekly during Covid while keeping everybody safe.

As we’ve transitioned out of Covid, we see that there is now a greater need for meal delivery in the community, and we’re trying to serve it as best we can. Where we delivered meals to 1,700 people a day before the pandemic, we’re now up to about 2,500 a day, and we’ve created philanthropic and governmental partnerships to support this expansion.

What do want people to know about Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland?

We want them to know that we are much more than meals! Most people know of Meals on Wheels; they know who we are and our brand, which is fantastic. But they need to learn more about everything we do, how deeply embedded we are in these communities, how we do the wraparound services and how we are consistently innovating.

We have such a fast-growing senior population that we’re always looking at creating new programs and ways to serve people better. This is not your mom and dad’s Meals on Wheels. It’s one for the future. We’ve introduced technology to our work and that’s created a great deal of efficiency, but more importantly allowed us to create a closer connection to our clients.

This is not your mom and dad’s Meals on Wheels. It’s one for the future.

How are you using the funds you’ve received from the Giant Food Community Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good Programs?

These funds will undoubtedly help us advance our programs as we address how to better serve the individual senior and their family. We connect not just with the senior but also their family members because they have the same goal: to keep their senior family member in their home as long as possible.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Nonprofits need to think differently about how we do service. We need more partnerships. We need to work with other organizations because nonprofits frequently are servicing the same population. Let’s figure out how we do it better and more simply by getting out of our silos and working together.

We’ve already been able to create some innovative partnerships with healthcare networks. It’s a matter of complementing each other’s work, not competing.

Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland’s Tim May and Jessica Mitko double-teamed for this interview! Tim is Chief Development Officer, and Jess is Director, Marketing & Events.