Whether it is due to an inability to prepare meals, shop for groceries, or a lack of outside support, fewer older adults are getting the nutrients they need to sustain healthy, productive lives. That’s where Deupree Meals On Wheels (DMOW) comes in.
Since 1989, DMOW has delivered healthy meals directly to the homes of seniors and people with disabilities throughout Hamilton County. Caring drivers and volunteers also provide a social connection that helps meal recipients remain living independently in their own homes.
Today, DMOW remains a lifeline for many seniors living alone, though the community-based service has evolved since its humble beginnings to accommodate changing needs.
A Growing Need for Meal Deliveries
Demand for meal deliveries to homebound seniors has never been greater than since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Megan Bradford, Vice President of Middle Market and Ministry at Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS). The program’s clientele expanded by 40 percent and volunteers delivered 50 percent more meals in 2020.
That’s 60,000 more meals than were delivered in 2019.
As a result, the program outgrew its former home at the Deupree House Dining Services kitchen, and DMOW relocated to a new, larger location in Fairfax, Ohio, in April of 2021.
The move was the result of generous donations from many people, led by two longtime ERS volunteers and past board members. Lead donors Bob and Connie Reed, along with Tate and Anne Greenwald, who provided a matching grant, made it possible for ERS raise nearly $90,000 to cover the costs of renovating the new space and then move the operation into its new home. This support was invaluable in making the project a reality during the difficult pandemic year, said ERS Executive Director of Philanthropy Joy Blang.
With the expanded kitchen and workspace of the new facility, DMOW was able to meet the increased demand with no waiting list — a proud accomplishment.
Amenities at DMOW’s new home include larger meal prep and assembly areas for staff. There is also a warming oven and milk refrigerator. Expanded storage capabilities allow the program to stock additional items for clients, such as microwaves, personal-care items, cleaning supplies, and pet food. There is more office space for staff, and easier access for volunteers to load vehicles for deliveries with a large walk-in cooler located outside the building near the back entrance.
“Loneliness and accessing food have been two of the biggest challenges for older adults since the onset of the pandemic,” Bradford said. “Can you imagine having to make the choice of putting your life at risk of contracting COVID-19 at the grocery or feeding yourself?”
“Nearly 7.4 million seniors have incomes below the poverty line,” Bradford said. “That’s an income of $240 a week or less, which, after housing, utility, and medical expenses, leaves very little for food. As a part of ERS’ mission to serve older adults, Deupree Meals On Wheels provides a layer of support to those living in the greater community to stay independent for as long as possible. Meal delivery can be arranged through Deupree Meals On Wheels on a long-term basis or temporarily.”
Lead donors Connie and Bob Reed are pictured baking together in their kitchen. The Reeds provided substantial support for the Deupree Meals On Wheels on the Move Campaign. ERS hopes that their faithful giving will also provide inspiration for others to support our mission.
As many volunteers can attest, the program is much more than a hot meal for many clients. Bradford said the volunteers serve as a friendly face and a connection to the community that might otherwise be missing in their lives.
“Our ‘secret sauce’ has always been personal interaction. Volunteers and staff don’t just deliver meals, they build relationships,” she said. “While nutrition and sustenance are a primary goal, regular touchpoints allow ERS to identify and address physical, medical, or social issues an individual living in isolation may be experiencing.”
DMOW Director Tsippy Gottlieb, echoed those sentiments in an April 2020 interview. “The Deupree Meals on Wheels program is part of ERS’s mission and culture,” she explained. “This program is not just a meal but is based on the Core Values of ERS: Relationships, Integrity, Engagement, Inclusion, Person-Centeredness, and Progressive Thinking. We provide a culture of compassion, empathy, and quality services.”
Deupree Meals On Wheels also includes an amazing group of volunteers coming from a variety of backgrounds, “and over 14 different zip codes in Hamilton County,” Gottlieb said. “Their dedication and commitments have made a big impact on the very positive relationships that have developed over years. We have an amazing team that serves our clients on a daily basis with care and love.”
Donors Tate and Anne Greenwald served as volunteers in DMOW for many years and developed strong friendships with program participants. “Through the years, Anne and I have developed relationships with the people on our route,”said Tate Greenwald. “Sometimes, we were the only people they would see all week. The DMOW program is vital to their ability to remain living in their own homes.”
Thanks to the generosity of the Reeds and Greenwalds and additional program donors, DMOW will continue to meet this vital mission without turning individuals away. Joy Blang said there is a continued need for donations to make vital improvements to the space, including an awning for the pick-up and drop-off location so volunteers can load vehicles without being fully exposed to the weather.