With so much uncertainty caused by COVID-19, Fort Frances can take comfort that Meals on Wheels is still delivering to its most vulnerable clientele.
The volunteer agency has been forced to constrict its operations, but will continue to deliver to those on its roster who have no other family in the area, said Gaby Hanzuk, Meals on Wheels organizer. That has meant passing the torch to families for the time being, which the Meals on Wheels board felt was the prudent thing to do.
“We've had nothing but support from our families," she said. "Everyone has been amazing and very understanding through this.”
Meals on Wheels is a volunteer organization, which delivers economical, pre-made meals to seniors in their homes. The meals are purchased by the client or their families, and prepared by Riverside Healthcare, then picked up and delivered by Meals on Wheels volunteers. Although it serves the area's senior population, most of the organization's volunteers are also over the age of 70, noted Hanzuk. Under Northwestern Health Unit guidelines, that age group has been advised to self-isolate, to protect themselves from contracting COVID-19.
“We have to take care of our volunteers," said Hanzuk. "I don't want to be responsible for one of my volunteers getting sick.”
For the time being, Hanzuk, who is the organization's only paid employee, will be making all deliveries by herself. She'll be using strict safety protocols, to ensure a safe and reliable service.
Hanzuk is nearing senior citizen status herself, and although she's concerned what might happen if she falls ill herself, she feels strongly that the service needs to remain open for those who have no other way of accessing food.
“I'm going to do everything I can,” she said.
She's open to a new volunteers through this time. Because all citizens 70 and over are being advised to self-isolate, any volunteers working through this time need to be below that age, and in good health, so they don't jeopardize the well-being of clients, who are particularly vulnerable to severe cases of COVID-19.
Once this crisis passes, Hanzuk is hoping to revitalize her volunteer base. Some of her regulars have been with the program for nearly 50 years. “It's like having a lot of moms," she laughed. "They're always there to help and give advice. They're wonderful.”
However, without new volunteers, the program could dwindle. Even at normal operations, she has a waiting list of 15 to 20 clients who would qualify for the program, if she only had the manpower to deliver to them.
“We used to get volunteers from church groups, but those numbers are dropping," she said. "There's been a non-stop decline in general.”
Anyone interesting in volunteering for Meals on Wheels through the COVID-19 crisis, or beyond it, can call Hanzuk at 274-3764 or 274-9446.