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Meal requests are up 300%, as are the number of Oregonians volunteeering to deliver them to home-bound residents

Caution signs at Meals on Wheels People offices.The numbers of people that the Meals on Wheels People are seeing are not unexpected as the week begins, but they are unprecedented.

In a "normal" month, there will be 300 requests from homebound elderly people for meal deliveries. There are currently 150 requests for meal deliveries per day.

"So many people who would never consider calling Meals on Wheels are now calling," said spokesperson Julie Piper Finley.

There are about 450 regular volunteer drivers. That number will go much higher. New numbers indicate that a lot of people who would never volunteer to deliver those meals are now doing so. Since Friday, March 20, an estimated 900 people went to www.MOWP.org to offer their services delivering meals.

PMG PHOTOS: BILL GALLAGHER - Meals on Wheels People main offices and kitchen in Multnomah Village.Piper Finley says there's an issue with putting these people right to work.

"If you call today, you won't be delivering meals tomorrow. The big issue is getting criminal background checks done on everyone who volunteers," she said. "That will take a few days."

The organization is trying to expedite those criminal background checks, which are done through the state of Oregon.

A number of school teachers are volunteering who have been through the background check process but who will need to get a new one done. Piper Finley said they also are seeing a lot of restaurant workers call to volunteer.

As soon as a volunteer delivery driver is cleared they will be put to work. Most of the current drivers — 65% — are older than 70.

"We lost some volunteers who were worried about their clients as much as themselves. It's amazing that most volunteers are still delivering," sid Suzanne Washington, CEO of the Portland-based organization, told Oregon Public Broadcasting on Thursday, March19.

To meet the demand for delivered meals, a second shift has been added at the central kitchen in Multnomah Village. In normal times, clients receive a meal five days per week. Volunteers now deliver five meals three days per week.

"We can make enough meals; we just don't have the storage. We usually make a meal a day for five days but now multiple meals at a time are produced and they have to be refrigerated," Piper Finley said. Local restaurants have been contacted about sharing refrigerator space.

Meals On Wheels People headquarters in Multnomah Village.There is an acute need for donations since the organization receives funding for 1.5 million meals per year.

To volunteer or donate go to www.MOWP.org.

Like government agencies, the organization has prepared for the unforeseen, but this is different.

"We're prepared for tsunami, earthquake, even biological warfare. But never, ever considered a pandemic in which people couldn't contact each other. That's our biggest issue," Piper Finley said.

CEO Washington told OPB there are now procedures in place for non-contact deliveries: Hang the meal on the door or place it on the porch. Wipe down the doorbell. Stay on the other side of a screen door.

"Our No. 1 challenge," she said, "is making sure staff and volunteers observe safety protocols. NO HUGS."

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