Meals on Wheels GLV will expand thanks to generous donation

Written by on January 27, 2021

Meals on Wheels GLV will expand thanks to generous donation

By Haley O’Brien

January 27, 2021

Janet Naylor and Joan Erb, who volunteer their time for Meals on Wheels, sport matching face masks as they head out to deliver a meal to Peter Grimes at his home in Bethlehem. Photo | Haley O’Brien

The local chapter of Meals on Wheels recently got a sizable donation that it says will bolster its work delivering food to thousands of Lehigh Valley seniors and disabled adults. Volunteers are the ones who make it possible to continue this service even during the pandemic. 

Listen to the story.

Janet Naylor and Joan Erb sport matching face masks as they head out to deliver a meal to Peter Grimes at his home in Bethlehem. It’s their first stop of the day. 

The 78-year-old twins have been volunteering their time to Meals on Wheels of the Greater Lehigh Valley for 15 years. And they kept it up, even in a pandemic. 

“We did it a couple of weeks, and then we got nervous because our kids were bugging us, don’t do this. So we were off for a couple of weeks and we thought ah you know what it’s pretty safe so we started back again,” Naylor says.  

“And then we got COVID. Not from here, from the bowling alley,” Erb quickly adds. 

Janet Naylor and Joan Erb with one of their clients, Peter Grimes. Photo | Haley O’Brien

They love visiting with clients, but Erb says social interaction is tricky because of the coronavirus.

“They’re a little wary, some of the clients. There’s a lady, she puts a mask on every time I come in, and she was always real friendly. And you don’t get close to them- most of them are either sitting off, like he is always in his chair and another man I go to, they don’t come close,” Erb says.

Vicki Coyle is CEO of Meals on Wheels of the Greater Lehigh Valley. She says volunteers are trained to work around clients’ preferences for social distancing. 

“We do ask clients, if they’re not comfortable they should put a chair or a box outside their door for the meal, we do tell them though if they do that we need to see them, because really one of the most valuable parts of our service is a wellness check, so we want to be able to wave at someone through a window or a door to make sure they are okay,” Coyle says. 

She says they lost a few hundred volunteers at the start of the pandemic, too. But newcomers stepped up. 

“We put out a couple of requests mainly through Facebook, and people shared it and shared it again and again. And we had an incredible response. So I have to say our volunteers are amazing. Without them, we couldn’t have done this work,” she says. 

More than 1,500 volunteers make deliveries and even before COVID-19, the organization was expanding to meet the high demand in the region. Coyle says a recent donation of $1.5 million from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott will be a big help.

“It is a lot. You know, it’s definitely like hitting the nonprofit lottery. There’s no question about it. So our budget’s about three and a half million. So it’s a little less than half of our annual budget” Coyle says.

She is now putting together her recommendations for how to use the funds. She says some of it will help renovate a new cooking facility in Allentown.

“Our kitchen here is pretty small, and the layout isn’t really conducive to safe and productive cooking, it’s a little chopped up. So the new kitchen is going to be a lot bigger,” she says.

And Coyle has aspirations to increase outreach to connect with more Lehigh Valley residents who could benefit from Meals on Wheels. Right now they reach nearly two thousand clients.

Back at Peter Grimes’ house, Naylor and Erb are placing a meal on the table…but they won’t leave until they get to see his cat. 

“We love your house. And your cat,” they tell him. 

The sisters take on the Meals on Wheels shift once a week…and they’re not planning to stop anytime soon. 

“We missed it when we didn’t do it. I missed some of the people, some of them I felt close to,” Erb says. 

To them, it’s not just about putting food on the table…it’s a meaningful way to connect with people during a time of intense isolation.

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