The COVID-19 outbreak has prompted Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels to make some major changes both in the way it gets meals to its clients and in its fundraising activities.
"Our 'new normal' is going to last longer than for most people," says Alison Foreman, YMOW executive director. While social distancing restrictions may be lifted at the end of April in some cases, that's not likely to happen at YMOW.
"We really think we need to be more diligent for longer," she says. "We're preparing our staff for the fact that we may be keeping protocols in place for our vulnerable seniors through maybe the end of June."
Beginning the week of March 30, YMOW cut delivery from six days a week to three in coordination with Michigan Medicine, which makes and packages the meals YMOW delivers. Each delivery will now include meals for two days. This means clients still have access to the food they need while reducing their potential exposure to the virus and minimizing the need for drivers to leave their homes.
YMOW also delivered a three-week supply of frozen and shelf-stable foods to clients on March 25. Foreman says YMOW took this step not knowing if it would be compensated by funders for delivering the extra shelf-stable foods.
"We had money in the bank and felt strongly that it was an important thing to do and that we had to take action quickly," Foreman says.
One of the downsides of the new safety protocols is that seniors will have to miss out on the hugs and personal contact they often receive along with their meals. However, Foreman says one of the delivery volunteers has worn silly costumes, including fox ears and tail, while making deliveries to give seniors a smile.
To make up for that lack of social contact, YMOW has started an "Only a Ring Away" program that has long-time staff, board members, and employees making assurance calls to their clients once a week.
YMOW staff estimate that additional emergency assistance to clients will require about an extra $25,000, and YMOW has been fundraising online to cover these additional costs. In a bit of good news, donations have been trickling in online and by mail, and YMOW was recently awarded a $15,000 grant from the DTE Foundation.
"They are really stepping up … and have reached out to a lot of nonprofits in their network," Foreman says.
Foreman says money is still a concern in the long term, however, since several regular YMOW fundraisers have been canceled or postponed. She worries that will impact YMOW's bottom line.
YMOW is still in need of monetary donations as well as donations of toilet paper and other personal care items for clients. More information about how the community can help YMOW during this time is available at the nonprofit's website.
For more Concentrate coverage of our community's response to the COVID-19 crisis, click here.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of YMOW.