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Oct. 16, 2021 | Saturday
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Niagara politicians ride along for Meals on Wheels deliveries
Marianne McRae, MOW executive director and Wayne Gates, MPP in the kitchen of GNGH, where the meals are packed for delivery. (Brittany Carter/Niagara Now)

Hot meals went out for delivery on Wednesday with MPP Wayne Gates along for the ride. As part of March for Meals, organized by Meals on Wheels, local politicians were invited to tag along with volunteers as they made their deliveries of warm prepared food for local clients.

Gates accompanied long-time volunteers Roger Schmid and Dennis Milani as they drove through Niagara Falls, dropping off lunch, offering to help open containers and checking in on clients.

MOW opened their office and vehicles to Gates to show him first-hand how the program helps seniors maintain their independence and a sense of dignity.

On March 28, Lord Mayor Betty Disero is scheduled to ride along with local volunteers in Niagara-on-the-Lake while they make their deliveries.

MOW is a non-profit, volunteer-driven service providing 2,567 nutritious meals weekly to seniors, mentally and/or physically challenged individuals or adults at nutritional risk. The goal is to give clients their dignity, allowing them to remain at home while ensuring they are eating healthy, nutritious meals.

Volunteers are on the front line when it comes to ensuring seniors are maintaining healthy lifestyles on their own.

Gates said it was wonderful to see the volunteers in action, adding that he could see why they decided to give their time to the program. Watching the clients light up when their deliveries arrived, Gates said he could tell that the experience was equally as rewarding for the volunteers. He also said the importance of programs like MOW needs to be brought to attention.

“I think it’s important to highlight the need to continue to fund organizations like this. If you’re going to talk about wanting to keep people in their homes, this is a program that certainly enhances that opportunity. If you’re trying to save dollars in the health care system, this is another way to do that.”

Clients are checked on regularly by volunteers, who make deliveries from one to five days a week depending on the client’s need. Building a relationship with clients, volunteers are able to call emergency contacts or services if any red flags arise while they are making their deliveries.

Marianne McRae, executive director of MOW, said funding is the biggest issue the organization faces. Funding comes from the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care from Local Health Integration Networks. MOW also receives funding through the United Way, which she said has had to scale back the amount provided in recent years. MOW started with $18,000 of funding from United Way, but it’s been cut back to $13,000.

The MOW program costs about $360,000 annually to remain in operation, $140,000 comes from the ministry and $190,000 from the cost of meals charged to clients.

“All they pay for is the food. They are charged $7.20 per three-course hot meal because that’s what we pay for it.”

Clients can choose from hot meals delivered around lunch time, or frozen meals for later consumption. McRae said volunteers deliver 350 to 400 frozen meals a week, which are provided by Ina Grafton Gage Village in St. Catharines.

“They are home-cooked and flash-frozen,” McRae said, adding that the frozen meals provide more variety for the clients. “The beauty of the frozen is they can order what they want, and they can heat it up when they want it, which is normally at dinner time. For the hot meals, they have to have them at lunch.”

The hot meals are created in the kitchen of the St. Catharines General Hospital and brought to the MOW office at the Greater Niagara General Hospital in Niagara Falls. From there, the meals are sorted and packed up for each route.

The volunteers and staff adhere to diet restrictions and aim to provide the best meal per individual client, which is a feat considering they deliver to about 60 clients a day.

Crediting the success of the program to the volunteers, McRae said she doesn’t think they could operate without their dedication.

“They are the reason we exist. We would not be here if it weren’t for the volunteers. Even though we offer gas assistance compensation, there are many volunteers that turn it down, giving it back as a donation.” She said volunteers have been very generous with their time and financial contribution, adding that they might be bankrupt if the organization had to pay out costs to every volunteer.

There are about 200 volunteers on rotation at the Niagara Falls MOW, alternating their time monthly, which McRae said is likely why they don’t experience burnout.

MOW organizes other initiatives aiming to keep those at nutritional risk healthy and social.

The organization hosts a congregate dining lunch on Wednesdays each week. Serving lunch in a common room at an apartment building, 16 to 25 people get together to have lunch.

“It’s the social aspect of it. We get food from Commisso’s and serve it to the group, they have lunch together for socialization. We do that in four different apartment buildings,” McRae said.

“That’s good for them, gets them out of their apartment.”

While the group has many volunteers, McRae said there’s a need for a younger crowd. She said the organization has 90-year-olds who are still volunteering.

“They’re not ready to give it up yet.”

Still active and up to the task, McRae said many volunteers are retired and looking for something to do in their spare time, and it’s rewarding for them.

Gates said, “Not only do they need volunteers, they need younger volunteers.”