New Castle News

February 20, 2014

Winter forces Meals on Wheels to Plan B

Lugene Hudson
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Salt and propane aren’t the only materials in short supply this winter.

The brutal weather also left its mark on New Castle Meals on Wheels clients. On five occasions since Jan. 1, hot meal deliveries were canceled to ensure the safety of the volunteers.

Tuesday was one of them.

But director Jennifer Gordon and board president Charlene Osborne were ahead of the game.

Volunteers had prepared and delivered 80 “blizzard bags” as a contingency plan for the days meals couldn’t be delivered.

The bags, which were the same for everybody, contained staples such as Hormel complete dinners, low-sodium V-8 juice, peanut butter crackers, tuna in a pouch, fruit cups, raisins and water.

“We are very conscious of the nutritional content and expiration dates,” Gordon said. “That is why we don’t accept donations.”

The supplies were only meant to last one day until regular meals could be delivered again, she pointed out.

Refills were needed, though.

“We’ve run out and need to get replenishments,” she mentioned, adding that monetary contributions and gift cards are being accepted. A grant awarded to Meals on Wheels in December from the Almira Foundation helped pay for the contents of the bags.

The number of clients fluctuates but is generally about 80, Gordon verified.

According to Osborne, frozen meals, which could be heated up by the clients, also were assembled.

All the meals for Meals on Wheels are prepared at Jameson Hospital.

“We wanted to ensure that all our clients had food on hand should it be too hazardous for our volunteers to get out,” Gordon said. “This has been an extra hard winter. We didn’t anticipate we would need to use the bags that many times.”

Some volunteers have been doing this for 15 to 20 years and told Gordon that they can’t recall the last time the weather was so harsh.

“It just wasn’t the snow. We also didn’t want our volunteer out there in sub-zero temperatures.”

However, the snow poses its own set of problems for those making meal deliveries.

“Our homebound clients can’t clear paths so that becomes a hazard for the volunteers,” she continued. “Knowing clients have food on hand, I can focus my decision on what’s best for my volunteers and they appreciate when I cancel.”

Each time there has been a cancellation, Gordon checks with clients to see if they need more supplies. About half needed replenishments when cancellations occurred, she said.

Osborne acknowledged “there will always be a need to have blizzard bags handy. We thought there would come a time we would need them and we did.”

So just in case, what Gordon hopes will be the final batch of blizzard bags will be put together next week.

Because the bags were so successful, they will be used from now on.

That gives Gordon peace of mind.

And Osborne’s wish is that the storms will soon become something to talk about in the past tense as spring edges closer.