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Meals on Wheels everyday heroes deliver

Volunteers Mick and Sue Graziano, pictured left, along with Jack and Carol Hood celebrated their wedding anniversaries by delivering meals. The day was made a little sweeter when Meals on Wheels surprised each couple with a special anniversary cake made by Peggy Rose, owner of the Cakery in Fredonia. Submitted Photo.

Even though COVID-19 restrictions remain in place, Dunkirk-Fredonia Meals on Wheels is still delivering food to the senior community that needs them.

Annually, over 250 homebound seniors and others with limited mobility in Northern Chautauqua County depend on Dunkirk-Fredonia Meals on Wheels for their nourishment, and over three-quarters of the volunteers who deliver their meals are over 55 years old. Many long-time volunteers are in their 80s.

“We are taking every precaution to be healthy and safe because we know that the people we serve are counting on us,” said Debra Pacos, Executive Director. “We will do everything possible to continue this vital service throughout the length of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Although gloves, masks and hand sanitizer continue to be rare commodities, Meals on Wheels staff and volunteers are all properly outfitted with protective gear. Early on the program was able to source gloves from a local freight salvage store, and hand sanitizer was produced and bottled in-house by Meals on Wheels staff using alcohol, distilled water and essential oils. Local seamstress Linda Cobb responded to a challenge to sew one-hundred cloth face masks, and donated them to the program.

During the past month, 38 of DFMOW’s 70 regular delivery volunteers have stepped back, while a few remaining volunteers have temporarily taken on an extra route to cover while they are away.

“It was a hard decision,” said one volunteer. “When you see someone every week for years, you become friends, and you know that sometimes you are the only person they will see all day.”

About 20 volunteers from the surrounding community have joined in to assist with meal delivery, many of whom were laid off during the COVID-19 crisis. Some bring their teens and pre-teens along to help.

“We are so grateful to all of these everyday heroes who are jumping in to make sure that our most vulnerable neighbors are not forgotten,” Pacos said. “We should all take heart from knowing that we live in such a caring, giving community.”

Social distancing was perhaps the most difficult of the precautions that were implemented in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Meals are still delivered daily, but there’s no more chatting at the door with recipients. To limit direct contact, volunteers place meals on a table, chair, or other flat surface so the client can retrieve it without direct contact. Alternatively, meal recipients may choose to hang a bag on their door or provide a cooler so that meals can be placed safely inside. A phone call is made to ensure that the meal was received and to provide contact.

“For the clients we serve, our meal deliveries are the constant in their lives during good times and bad,” Pacos said. “We were here for them before COVID-19, we are here for them now, and we’ll be there for them when this is all over.”

Dunkirk-Fredonia Meals on Wheels operates through the generosity of fellow community members. Funding and in-kind support are provided by United Way, Chautauqua County Office for the Aging, RSVP, area foundations, service organizations, churches and individual donors.

For more information on how you can volunteer, contribute or speak out for the seniors in Northern Chautauqua County, contact Meals on Wheels at 716-366-8822. Donations of hand sanitizer, gloves and sanitizing wipes are also welcome and very much appreciated.

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