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Lancaster Meals on Wheels tweaks home delivery to vulnerable in age of COVID-19 [photos, video]

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Meals on Wheels acting executive director Feleen Nancarvis delivers a meal to a client in Lancaster city on Wednesday, March 25, 2020.

A widow with multiple sclerosis, Lisa Lanterman can’t cook for herself. She worried that the coronavirus would stop Meals on Wheels from delivering a hot meal to her Lancaster apartment each weekday.

But the 10-employee nonprofit has kept the food coming while making adjustments to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. About 350 homebound people receive meals daily.

“I know that whatever the weather, whatever the circumstance, they're always here,” Lanterman said after Wednesday’s meal arrived on a drizzly morning. That day’s meal featured chili, broccoli and cornbread. A separate bag contained a salami and provolone cheese sandwich, red beet eggs, a banana and vanilla pudding.

“During this time, I think it’s a big help,” said Denise Forney, who cares for her ailing uncle, Walter Musselman, of West Vine Street. “I go to the grocery store for him, everything’s gone. If he didn’t have Meals on Wheels, who knows what he would have for a meal.”

The need to assure social distancing has forced changes on Meals on Wheels of Lancaster and stressed its $800,000 budget.

Packaged meals must now be carried outside to delivery drivers lining up in cars behind the Manheim Pike office. That’s a change from drivers picking up the meals from racks inside.

Meals on Wheels has provided its volunteer drivers with disposable gloves and sanitizing wipes.

The organization has also asked clients to place a cooler or insulated bag outside their doors. The delivery person places the food in the client’s container, knocks on the door and steps away. The delivery person remains until the food is picked up, providing a check on the client’s well-being.

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Volunteer manager Doug Hopwood of Meals on Wheels of Lancaster takes bagged meals to delivery vehicles on Wednesday, March 25, 2020.

“A lot of people were concerned that the safety check would disappear because of the social distancing,” Feleen Nancarvis, acting executive director, said. “But we still want to see that everyone is doing well.”

Another big impact of the coronavirus scare has been the loss of 45% of the agency’s volunteers.

The manpower shortage occurred because partner organizations that integrate clients or students with disabilities into the community had to shut down, Nancarvis said. Meals on Wheels used those volunteers as delivery people, packers and kitchen help.

Meals on Wheels has recruited enough new volunteers to keep cooking and delivering food as usual.

“We’ve received a substantial amount of support from the community so far,” Nancarvis said. “The challenge for us is to determine whether or not that support will be consistent over the coming weeks because everything is so uncertain.”

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Delivery cars line up outside Meals on Wheels of Lancaster on Wednesday, March 25, 2020.

Last year, over 700 volunteers helped cook, package and deliver meals to some 350 homebound clients in a swath that includes Lancaster city and its suburbs as well as West Hempfield Township, Leola, New Holland, Terre Hill, Gap and Christiana.

The Lancaster agency is the largest of nine Meals on Wheels programs in Lancaster County, all of which are facing similar struggles. Nancarvis said her agency stands ready to assist the smaller programs.

Lanterman benefits from Meals on Wheels and also contributes to its mission. She buys and writes notes in birthday cards that accompany client meals. She makes sure volunteers and staff also get cards.

“It gives me a purpose,” Lanterman said. “I can’t say enough good things for Meals on Wheels. It’s not just someone dropping off a meal. It’s an organization you can rely on.”

“And without Meals on Wheels,” she said before digging in, “I would be losing a lot of weight.”

How to help

 Potential volunteers may sign up at MealsonWheelsofLancaster.org or by emailing volunteer@lancasterMOW.org.

Drivers make deliveries between 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. weekdays.

There are three two-hour shifts for kitchen work, starting at 6 a.m., 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.