Apr 17

Springwell Mobilizes Volunteers to Deliver Meals

Every weekday, Springwell delivers more than 800 hot, nutritious meals to older adults in Belmont, Brookline, Newton, Waltham, Watertown, Wellesley and Weston who are facing challenges related to aging that make leaving their homes difficult. In normal times, these deliveries are more than a meal, providing nutrition support and a daily wellness check. When COVID-19 hit, they became an essential service for a vulnerable population, and one of Springwell’s top priorities.

The challenges started coming immediately when Springwell’s partnership with an employment service for disabled adults had to pause once the employment service closed under the statewide emergency order in March. With one day’s notice, more than half of the Springwell’s delivery routes were uncovered. Staff at all levels of the organization stepped in that first week to ensure that no meal would go undelivered, but the organization’s CEO, Trish Smith, knew that the effort to re-purpose existing staff was unsustainable.

A call went out for temporary volunteer drivers, and a small internal team was put together to create the infrastructure to recruit, screen, and train a new corps of volunteers. Within three days, more than 150 community members answered the call for volunteers, and so far more than 65 volunteers have made it through a lengthy process to get the background checks, driver’s clearances, and training necessary to safely volunteer in the program. Once on board, volunteers have been handed off to the Nutrition Department staff who juggle, reduce, and sometimes increase route sizes; re-assign drivers; and still sometimes pull in staff from other departments to ensure that meals are delivered.

Volunteers have been profoundly moved by the experience. The following came from a volunteer after his third day out on the road:

“…one of the couples I deliver to [is] R. and C. –  R. fell yesterday on his way to the door to get his meals. I stayed for a bit to make sure he was OK and C. was there as well. Then today, C. came to the door. I asked about R. and she confirmed he was OK but burst into tears, likely at how isolating this whole situation is. It just broke my heart. I stayed at the door just talking for a bit but just wished I could do more.”

For so many isolated seniors, their contact with their meal delivery driver is the only time each day that they are reminded that they are not forgotten and that somebody cares and will be there for them. During this time of increased fear among already isolated and vulnerable older adults, Springwell staff and volunteers are sending that message every day to hundreds of seniors and their stressed families that their well-being is important. Springwell’s Nutrition Director, Dalia Cohen, took a call from one of them last week:

“I can’t thank you all enough for continuing to get meals to my Mom. I live all the way out in (the far suburbs) and the additional stress – on top of everything else right now – of having to drive in every day would be huge. Thank you for working it all out so that this service can continue.” 

The new volunteer program continues to face challenges. It has rapidly responded to changing safety and social distancing protocols, balancing the need for safe food handling and protecting both vulnerable seniors and generous volunteers given the scarcity of personal protective equipment. Issues with catering for the program have meant a temporary pivot to frozen meals for some seniors. An effort to provide the organization’s highest risk members with a week’s worth of meals presented an additional staffing challenge on top of the day’s regular deliveries. And the need for more volunteers continues. Through it all, Springwell staff and volunteers have kept their focus on the most important thing: the health and well-being of the seniors being served.