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Staff, volunteers move to pickup, delivery for annual fundraiser supporting Meals on Wheels

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE MILWAUKIE CENTER - Volunteers from the Nationa Charity League help serve food at last year's Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the Milwaukie Center. This year, staff had to get creative and will offer pickup and delivery to keep the tradition alive, as well as raise some funds for the local Meals on Wheels program. Staff and volunteers with the Milwaukie Center's Meals on Wheels program aren't going to let the COVID-19 pandemic stand in the way of their 30-year tradition of providing a Thanksgiving meal to members of their community and raising a few bucks in the process.

Although in-person dining is canceled this year, the resourceful folks at the Milwaukie Center are putting their army of Meals on Wheels volunteers to use in bringing Thanksgiving meals directly to your door on Wednesday, Nov. 25.

The annual tradition typically sees hundreds of community members congregating at the Milwaukie Center each Thanksgiving, but due to social distancing and other COVID-19 safety precautions, most in-person programming has been canceled, including the dinner.

But thanks to some quick thinking and a fleet of volunteers, those wishing to help the Milwaukie Center with a bit of fundraising while still receiving their typical Thanksgiving meal will have a way to stay connected to their local senior center and fill their bellies.

Nutrition Program Coordinator Kathi Schroeder said that many of their clients are missing out on being able to visit the Milwaukie Center and partake in various programs that keep them connected, so when November rolled around and staff began contemplating solutions to keep their Thanksgiving tradition alive, turning to their Meals on Wheels volunteers was a no-brainer.

"We thought that this might satisfy those people who normally come," she said. "It's also good for people who want to stay in with their family and not have to cook."

The Milwaukie Center's kitchen plans to prepare a full meal — roasted turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, dressing, green beans, cranberry and pumpkin custard. Options for vegetarians will also be available. All COVID-19 safety precautions including distancing, face masks and hand sanitizing wil be practiced during the preparation and delivery of these meals.

A $15-per-meal donation is required, and those wishing to receive meals are asked to register by Sunday, Nov. 22 by visiting or calling the nutrtion program at 503-654-3030.

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE MILWAUKIE CENTER - A Milwaukie Center Meals on Wheels volunteer loads up to head out on a delivery run.

The meals will be packaged cold and available for pickup from noon-1:30 p.m. on the day before Thanksgiving at the Milwaukie Center. Meals on Wheels volunteers will be delivering meals during that same timeframe.

As with many other services, Meals on Wheels has had to adapt to contactless delivery through the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Schroeder, their numbers of volunteers have remained stable despite a few having to step back for their own reasons, but they haven't missed a beat thanks to other volunteers stepping up to drive multiple routes on back-to-back days.

Schroeder said the biggest impact that the pandemic has had on the program is they've been unable to host fundraisers that typically provide support. With the record number of requests for Meals on Wheels deliveries for homebound older adults, fundraising is more important than ever. While the federal government funds approximately one half of each meal; the remaining amount relies upon community contributions and fundraising efforts.

The Milwaukie Center's meal program has operated for 40 years and delivers more than 55,000 meals annually. Fresh meals are made on site daily and delivered by dedicated volunteers — rain or shine.

Schroeder said she hopes that the Thanksgiving meal pick-up/delivery will spread some awareness that there's still a need for support to help keep Meals on Wheels operating in Milwaukie.

According to Suzanne Williams, an 10-year volunteer with the program, supporting Meals on Wheels isn't just about providing nutrition for housebound seniors, it's also about the connections created between volunteers and community members.

Williams said that although they've had to adapt to contactless delivery, contactless doesn't mean connectionless.

"We are sometimes the only people they see during the day or are in touch with," Williams said.

According to Williams, half of her job as a volunteer is to converse with her clients, asking them how they're doing and seeing if they're anything else they might need.

Volunteers will go out on their route, deliver the meals to their clients, chat with them and report back to Schroeder if they sense that something is off, or if the client might benefit from a follow up.

Although these short check-ins between volunteers and clients now take place in a socially distanced setting — whether it's through the front-porch screen or from the porch to the sidewalk — it's still important to volunteers like Williams to ensure they're providing some social interaction to a demographic that is increasingly reporting loneliness as one of the main impacts of this pandemic.

"The interaction with these people every day is just a pleasure," she said. "I don't remember ever someone getting grumpy with me. It's usually a smile and 'How are you doing?' And a little safety to check to make sure everything looks right."

Williams said that through the years she's maintained friendships with some of the clients she's served, and she's excited to participate in keeping the Milwaukie Center's 30-year tradition of providing great Thanksgiving meals alive.

"I'm proud to do it," she said. "I'm thankful to them for letting me do it. It gives me a place to do what I feel I need to, and they're good people to work with."

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