FARGO — Meals on Wheels, the program which is both a nutritional and social lifesaver for more than 600 seniors in our area, says it still needs people to help deliver meals as demand is expected to grow even higher in the coming weeks.

“We are starting to see an increase of referrals for Meals on Wheels in the last week,” said Shannon Lang, the nutrition manager for Valley Senior Services, the organization that runs the program.

Currently, Meals on Wheels provides 800 meals a day in Fargo and West Fargo and another 250 to 300 across the region. Lang said that’s pretty close to what they served before the pandemic, but they are preparing to serve more meals as worried sons and daughters reach out.

Volunteers who deliver meals to seniors still try to deliver the meal indoors because some seniors have mobility issues. If seniors prefer, volunteers can leave the meal on the doorstep, but still like to visually check on the senior. Submitted photo
Volunteers who deliver meals to seniors still try to deliver the meal indoors because some seniors have mobility issues. If seniors prefer, volunteers can leave the meal on the doorstep, but still like to visually check on the senior. Submitted photo

“Family members from out of town are calling and emailing, wondering how their loved ones can start meals,” she said.

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Lang said they’re seeing a slight decrease in the number of seniors who use the “pick up and go” meal option available at senior centers. Late last week, the North Dakota Department of Human Services announced that the state's senior meal providers would be canceling all dine-in meals and put efforts into alternate plans for serving senior citizens.

“Older adults are at increased risk of complications from COVID-19; however, senior nutrition programs are an essential community service,” said Aging Services Division Director Nancy Nikolas Maier.

While Meals on Wheels programs might be facing higher demand from housebound seniors in need, their volunteer workforce is struggling to keep up.

Volunteers picking up meals to deliver to seniors through the Meals on Wheels program. Valley Senior Services says they are 'grateful' for all the volunteers who have stepped up to help. Submitted photo
Volunteers picking up meals to deliver to seniors through the Meals on Wheels program. Valley Senior Services says they are 'grateful' for all the volunteers who have stepped up to help. Submitted photo

Brian Arett, the executive director for Valley Senior Services, said he’s grateful to the volunteers who are coming in to help, but concerns over coronavirus are coming into play.

"Either they're not feeling good or they're not comfortable doing it, and we respect that of course, so it's really helpful that we've had people step up," he said.

Currently, these volunteers are making sure the seniors' needs are being met from food delivery to social contact to safety checks. Most of the time, meals are still being taken inside the seniors' homes because many meal recipients have limited mobility. If the senior requests the meal be left outside, volunteers do that, but still knock on the door for a visual safety check.

Lang said they’re also very grateful to the churches and businesses reaching out to see if they can help.

One business stepping up is Drekker Brewing Company in Fargo. On a Facebook post from March 21, Drekker wrote, “When we made the decision to shut down our taproom last week, that was part of a bigger conversation where we asked ‘Is there something we could be doing to help?’”

Management said they realized Drekker is not an essential business, but they knew they had assets — great employees, a giant building, a huge parking lot and a fleet of delivery trucks — that could be put to use by agencies and organizations that provide critical services to the community.

The crew from Drekker Brewing Company in Fargo is volunteering while the taproom is closed. Drekker Facebook Photo
The crew from Drekker Brewing Company in Fargo is volunteering while the taproom is closed. Drekker Facebook Photo

Already Drekker has helped out at the Emergency Food Pantry, and its delivery trucks have dropped off food to Meals on Wheels.

Sol Ave Kitchen in Moorhead and its sister restaurant, Luna Fargo, is helping the Great Plains Food Bank, while helping their workers make ends meet. The workers, who have either been laid off or had their hours drastically reduced, are still willing to work and help the community through the crisis. So, they’ve set up a GoFundMe page, where for every $50 donated, $5 and two hours of volunteer work goes to the Great Plains Food Bank.

Randy’s University Diner in Fargo has been a popular spot for senior citizens to gather for breakfast (and more) for 40 years. Now the restaurant wants to pay them back by making sure they’re getting enough to eat while they can’t come in and sit down.

“The thought of people being shut in with no ability to make a meal for themselves breaks my heart,” said Randy’s owner and general manager Heidi Roggenkamp. “If there is a way for us to help, I want to do it.”

Roggenkamp said the idea came from people reaching out to them on Facebook asking if they could purchase gift cards or meals for people in their lives who couldn’t get out to eat. Thanks to donations from the public, Randy’s employees are making meals — pork loin, chicken strips, roast beef, macaroni and cheese and more — to be delivered to people in the community who are on full lock down, including senior citizens. They’re also helping facilities and programs that work with adults with disabilities.

Roggenkamp said they don’t need volunteers to help deliver meals. Some community programs are picking up their meals, and of course, the Randy’s crew is looking to stay busy.

“I am trying to keep as many people on payroll as possible. Obviously many of them had to sign up for unemployment, but several are able to be right here with me, helping put together take-out orders and delivering. Our customers are loving that a familiar smiling face is bringing them their dinner,” she said.

Roggenkamp said she’s "so grateful" to the people who are ordering from the restaurant for their own families or donating to help pay for meals for others.

“Donations are key. Just like any restaurant right now, we are just trying to stay afloat until we can open back up. The meals we are bringing to these people are 100% funded by donations, so we will provide as many as we can with the funds that are given,” she said.

For more information:

To volunteer for Meals on Wheels — Valley Senior Services, Volunteers will need a background check before they can deliver, but background checks are often cleared within a couple of hours.

Sol Ave Kitchen/Luna Fargo GoFundMe page.

To donate to Randy’s University Diner meal program call 701-280-0414 or stop by the restaurant at 2130 University Drive Fargo.

To see if you or a loved one qualifies for meal delivery from Valley Senior Services in North Dakota contact: 701-293-1440 or info@valleyseniors.org

In Minnesota, contact Lutheran Social Services Senior Nutrition program at 218-233-7521 or nutrition@lssmn.org.

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