As COVID-19 spreads across the country, Collin County’s Meals on Wheels program will continue to deliver essential services to seniors across the county.
In terms of logistics, rural areas are of critical importance, said Collin County Meals on Wheels CEO Marzella Tyson.
With city environments come bigger populations, but also a larger volunteer candidate pool to pull from and larger healthcare systems.
Limited networks of healthcare systems, lack of public transportation and being homebound can present different difficulties for seniors in rural environments than it does in the city, Tyson said.
“As long as we’re open, our drivers are delivering in those areas and we do have some volunteers that are helping in those areas,” she said.
The pandemic brought a host of logistical complications, but also allowed the organization to operate with fewer government restrictions on how to serve residents, Tyson said.
Tyson finds the autonomy to be effective in addressing an escalating health situation.
“When March came on the scene, we were expecting to deliver with a great deal of restriction and the best thing that has happened is that the reduction in restrictions on how we deliver has impacted us in terms of getting food out and we’re really pleased with that - that we had more flexibility than before,” she said.
Delivery drivers have also adopted social-distancing measures, Tyson said.
“Now we are putting the meals on the door, stepping back six feet, knocking on the door. The senior has to open the door and get it and we leave from there,” she said.
The social toll of staying at home with limited social contact is also something the organization focuses on, Tyson said.
Social isolation among seniors was a critical health issue for the population even before the pandemic.
Isolation can lead to heightened physical and mental-health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression and cognitive decline, among others, according to the National Institute on Aging, which is under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“Our mission is to combat hunger and isolation, and isolation is going to be the biggest challenge for our organization and all Meals on Wheels right now,” Tyson said.
There has also been an increase in people willing to volunteer, spokesperson Ryan Ross said.
“I think that everyone is willing to help out, it’s just figuring out how and where, and we definitely want to be that place for people to come and volunteer,” he said.
Grants Manager Michelle Borckardt has been tasked with gauging staff needs during the constantly evolving pandemic.
“Those needs are hard to fully guess at this point because it’s changing. ... We’re trying to project where we’re going to be three months from now and come up with budgets and fitting that into a grant application,” she said.
The office has also created an internal safety task force.
“This is probably one of the most significant events that has impacted our nation in a long time and so we’re all learning, we’re all navigating it,” Borckardt said.