When the pandemic began, our first priority was to keep our members, clients, volunteers and staff safe and healthy. Directed by information and guidance from Public Health authorities, as well as provincial and municipal governments, we implemented protocols and procedures to achieve this goal. For the Meals on Wheels program, this included meal pick-up protocols to ensure physical distancing; mandatory wearing of masks and face shields and no-contact meal delivery for our volunteer team.
We are beginning to see the return of our volunteers who in March 2020, had to step back from their volunteer role. We were also fortunate to have a new team of volunteers come forward and fill in where needed. A handful of volunteers who were active prior to the pandemic were able and decided to continue in their Meals on Wheels volunteer role and they remain active today.
How did the pandemic affect their decision to continue? Did they consider taking a step back from their volunteer role? We spoke with 4 volunteers who despite COVID-19, made the decision to continue.
Before he retired, Gary Levine knew that he was going to volunteer for Meals on Wheels. He joined the team in October 2013 and except from an annual trip down south in late winter, like clock-work, Gary arrived each week for his regular route. Volunteering became part of his weekly routine. When the pandemic struck, he did pause to consider whether to continue delivering meals. He decided to change his weekly commitment to every 2 weeks and see how it went. He quickly saw the care that was being taken and the professional way everything was handled by the staff at the centre. With the support of his family he soon decided that he would go back to doing weekly deliveries. “People are so appreciative – even though you knock and go – you can hear them say thanks through the door. It is an important service that we are providing and I am happy to be part of it.” He is pleased with the protocols and feels it is important to continue volunteering. “I plan to stay volunteering for a long time – after the pandemic and beyond.”
Earlier in life when faced with a health issue, Joy Mann made a promise that if she regained her health, she would become a volunteer. In September 2018, she joined our Meals on Wheels program and made a commitment to deliver meals one day each week. The only change she has made since 2018 was moving from Friday to Wednesday delivery but otherwise has continued her weekly delivery. When the pandemic began, it never crossed her mind to stop volunteering. In fact, she knew she would be needed even more as some people would not be able to continue their volunteer work. “Some people were afraid, but I was never afraid. The program is very well organized – everything’s good.”
Jimmy Mazloumian, heard about the Meals on Wheels volunteer role from a friend who was volunteering with the program. Jimmy began volunteering in January 2019 and immediately loved it. The seniors he has met remind him of his grandparents back home in Iran and the memories they shared. He says volunteering makes him feel good. “When the pandemic began, no one knew what was going to happen. People were afraid and so was I.” Jimmy did extensive research on the virus and knew that by being cautious he would be safe. He felt confident with the program protocols that were put in place. “I am happy I made the decision to continue. This is a team and if any member is missing, this affects the results. I appreciate the staff for taking care of the seniors and for taking care of the volunteers.”
In January 2020, already, delivering meals for another agency on Monday and Thursday, Bernie Weitzman committed to delivering for our program on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Only 2 months into his volunteer role, the pandemic began. Public Health suggested that people over 70 years of age remain at home. Although disappointed, Bernie agreed to temporarily stop volunteering while we developed our safety protocols. By mid-June, he was back and resumed his 2-day weekly delivery. With a positive attitude and a strong belief that that nothing bad would happen to him, he never had concerns about getting sick from COVID. “I follow the safety measures. If I do get sick, maybe it will be like a bad flu.” Bernie has followed the protocols and remained healthy. “I know I did the right thing by continuing to volunteer.”
We thank volunteers like Gary, Joy, Jimmy and Bernie for continuing their volunteer work during the pandemic. We welcome back our volunteers who are returning to resume their place on this heroic and essential volunteer team.