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The Newberg program has seen a spike in recipients in recent weeks as economy suffers

NEWBERG GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Stephanie Meyer, a volunteer for Newberg Meals on Wheels for about year, unboxes the frozen 'weekend meals' that will be delivered to homes throughout the area.

By Ryan Clarke

Newberg Graphic reporter

NEWBERG -- For many seniors in Newberg and throughout the state, the Meals on Wheels program is an essential service in good times and bad. Given the increasing severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and the risk it poses to the elderly, it's more important now than ever.

The Newberg program, operating out of Chehalem Senior Center, hasn't missed a beat. They are still operating at full capacity while maintaining social distancing and taking precautionary measures to keep staff and local seniors safe and healthy. The interest in signing up for the program has increased in recent weeks as more seniors stay inside and are concerned about the dangers of going out.

"We are one of the few sites that are still business as usual," local program coordinator Polly Tremaine said. "We are getting hot meals out to our customers and the only thing that has changed is our routes are much longer. We have people calling in daily to get on the plan. Other than that it's pretty much the same.

"A lot of other places have gone to just frozen food. For people who live on the outskirts of town, we are encouraging them to just get seven frozen meals for whoever needs them. Our frozen usage has gone up tremendously."

Tremaine estimates that the local Meals on Wheels program has seen a 25-percent uptick in the number of people utilizing the service. Calls are flowing in every day with new people applying for the program and after a three-day waiting period they are often approved and sent meals right away if they meet the qualifications.

The senior center is closed for the time being, so the only thing happening in the building is Meals on Wheels. Food shipments come in from Salem and are carefully packaged and delivered by the program's many volunteers. So far, they've been able to handle an increase in demand without issue, Tremaine said.

"Our drivers make sure contact is very minimal on the drop off," Tremaine said. "Most of the people are in their 70s or 80s and don't want contact with our people either, so they have complied wonderfully. Our drivers have a box of gloves and sanitizer, and we are taking extra precautions to keep our recipients safe."

Everyone within the program is maintaining safe social distance and working hard to deliver meals to seniors, Tremaine said. People have been reaching out constantly to volunteer and help out where needed, and those who were already there aren't wavering in the face of this unique new challenge to the effort.

Support from the community has been immense and so has the demand from local seniors for the service. Tremaine encouraged all interested seniors who believe they might qualify for Meals on Wheels to call the senior center at 503-537-9404.

"The daily calls that we're getting is huge, but we want people to call if they are in need," Tremaine said. "We have a three-day window to order food once someone calls to get on the program and I over-order food just to get someone started as soon as possible once they are approved. The state processes their paperwork and gets back to me and there's a lot that happens behind the scenes before we get someone on the program.

"We have had so much outreach from the community, it has been wonderful. Right now, if the numbers keep increasing, we may have to put on additional rounds just to reach everybody. We have mentally gone over our plan for the future should the virus get worse, but I have amazing volunteers working on this."


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