The Greater Spokane County Meals on Wheels has received $100,000 in funding from Kaiser Permanente to expand its reach into more rural areas in Spokane County in the face of increased need because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The grant, through Kaiser Permanente’s More Than Meals program, is one of five given to agencies in Washington state and the only one awarded in Eastern Washington. The grant will allow the organization to build its infrastructure in those rural areas, said Greater Spokane County Meals on Wheels executive director Jeff Edwards.
“There’s a lot of seniors in need in these rural areas,” Edwards said. “We serve the entire county and that includes the city of Spokane.”
In normal times, GSCMOW operates 12 Silver Cafes throughout the county, providing a place for seniors to go for a hot meal every weekday. But those were shut down in late March, and there was an immediate increase in the number of seniors who asked for hot meals to be delivered to their homes. Some seniors who were still able to leave their homes were afraid of getting sick and wanted to shelter in place, Edwards said.
“Over a three- or four-week period, we saw a 20 to 25 % increase in home deliveries,” he said. “A lot of seniors reached out to us.”
In partnership with Aging and Long-Term Care of Eastern Washington, which usually provides some of GSCMOW’s funding, a new Diner’s Choice program was launched in April.
Seniors can get 14 meal coupons every two weeks, and each coupon entitles them to a free senior takeout meal at participating restaurants. The program is designed for seniors who are still mobile enough to leave their homes, Edwards said. It also benefits local restaurants.
“That is an adaptation we made,” he said.
The program has been quite successful and has provided more than 8,700 meals to over 300 seniors since it was launched, Edwards said.
The Kaiser Permanente grant allows GSCMOW to expand their reach even further, though in some areas a daily hot meal still isn’t feasible. “In some of the rural areas we don’t deliver a hot meal every day,” he said. “We bring seven frozen meals once a week.”
Finding enough volunteers to deliver the meals remains a challenge. Some regular volunteers have stopped coming because of concerns about their health, a decision Edwards said he understands and supports. When the pandemic first hit, there was a surge of new volunteers, but interest has slowed since then.
Edwards said people can volunteer for only a single route per week, which would take about an hour and a half.
“We do have a continued need for volunteers,” he said.
Volunteers are masked and do contactless delivery. They place the food in front of the recipient’s door, knock and then step back, Edwards said. They make sure the food is received, but don’t come in close contact with anyone.
“That’s something that’s been important to our seniors and their safety,” he said.
This no-contact method also allows volunteers to still check in with seniors and make sure they’re doing OK, Edwards said. “It’s that face-to-face social check-in that we provide,” he said.
Between Diner’s Choice and the new focus on rural areas more seniors are being helped, Edwards said. The number of seniors served in Deer Park has risen from 25 to more than 90. In Cheney, there are now 70 clients instead of 30. There are now 52 clients in the small town of Spangle compared to two clients previously.
The amount of the grant from Kaiser Permanente ensures that efforts to extent GSCMOW’s reach will be long term, Edwards said. “It’s an intentional, measured effort,” he said. “That’s a big donation and their commitment to making sure this is a sustained campaign. It truly did free up resources and the ability to reach all the way to the county line in every direction.”
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