In response to coronavirus concerns, organizations in central Pennsylvania are finding new ways to make sure vulnerable members of the community get fed. In Centre County, both State College Area Meals on Wheels and the YMCA of Centre County are making changes to their normal processes.
State College Area Meals on Wheels executive director Suelynn Shiller says the organization usually provides a hot and a cold meal five days a week to about 150 State College area residents who are elderly or have a disability. But starting on Monday, Shiller said they’re going to do things differently.
“We are switching on Monday to delivering one time a week, and each client will get five frozen meals and a bag of groceries in place of the cold meals,” Shiller said.
Shiller said the changes will cost about $25 more per person per week.
About 150 volunteers usually help create and deliver the meals. But they’re making do with fewer, since many of the volunteers are older and therefore more vulnerable to coronavirus. They also want fewer hands on the food and they’re washing their hands more and taking other steps.
“We've always cleaned our delivery bags,” Shiller said. “Now we're deep sanitizing them.”
They’re also sanitizing doorknobs and doorbells. And Shiller said that means they need some hard-to-find supplies.
“We are desperately in search of hand sanitizer and wipes,” Shiller said.
They might also add toilet paper to deliveries because clients are asking for it.
They currently have enough volunteers, but they’re taking names and contact information in case they need backups.
“Right now it seems like we might have enough volunteers to do the deliveries. But if,” Shiller paused, “if the virus becomes an issue in the community, those numbers will change.”
Shiller said they put out a call for loaner freezers on Monday and had four by Tuesday.
“I think the most remarkable thing about all of this is the response from the community,” Shiller said. “State College is truly an amazing community. People care about their neighbors. People are passionate about helping.”
There’s a box outside of Grace Lutheran Church in State College where people can leave donations. They’re also accepting cash donations on their website.
While Meals on Wheels is looking after the older population, the YMCA is working to help younger people. Mel Curtis is in charge of the YMCA of Centre County’s Anti-Hunger Program, which is gearing up as everything else at the Y is shutting down. The program is giving out meals to children in need who aren’t getting their normal weekday lunches now that schools are closed.
“Well, what they're getting is soup and macaroni and cheese for their lunch and they'll get a fruit cup,” Curtis said. “For their snacks they're gonna… we've been giving out all the fresh fruit we've been getting, like apples and oranges and they're getting granola bars.”
They’ve set up drive-through locations to hand out the bags of food at the YMCAs in State College, Bellefonte and Moshannon Valley on weekdays from noon to 1 p.m. They’re planning to have 14 pick-up sites total starting on Monday. Those sites are:
Citizen’s Hook and Ladder Fire Company of Milesburg
Grassflat Volunteer Fire Company
Hope Fire Company, Philipsburg
Millheim Fire Company
Morris Township Volunteer Fire Company, Morrisdale
Osceola Mills Elementary School
Philipsburg-Osceola Area Middle School
The Wreck Center, Houtzdale
West Branch School, Morrisdale
Winburne Volunteer Fire Company
Wingate Elementary School
Moshannon Valley YMCA
State College YMCA
Curtis said the response to the feeding program from families has been very positive.
“They're struggling, you know. They don't know how they're going to feed their children and stuff like that,” Curtis said. “So from that standpoint it's been all positive.”
The USDA will cover some of the YMCA’s costs, but Curtis said all of the feeding sites probably won’t qualify for funding. He said that won’t stop them.
“We don't want any child being hungry,” Curtis said. “So what we're doing is the financial side, we're picking up the cost of all that to go in to feed those kids.”
Curtis thinks they might eventually also have to start up their Backpack program, where they send backpacks of food home with kids at the end of the week so they have something to eat over the weekend.