Meals on Wheels leaders forced to cut back in Hampton Roads as pandemic increases need

Posted at 11:50 AM, Nov 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-23 17:12:32-05

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Seniors in the community are in need of food as the coronavirus pandemic is having a major impact on one of our most vulnerable populations.

Alma Barber has been driving meals and taking people to dialysis throughout the pandemic. She is an I-Ride Transit driver whose job is to deliver meals to homebound seniors and drive seniors to dialysis appointments.

I-Ride is a service offered by Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia, an agency that provides resources to seniors in a number of ways, including the Meals on Wheels program.

“It will bring tears to your eyes with what we are going on. In some kind of way, everyone is suffering. We may not know them but everyone is going through something in their life,” Barber said.

“We’ve had to pull a 180 on how we provide services,” said Steve Zollos, the Chief Executive Officer for Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia.

Zollos said the demand for meals has gone up during the pandemic. SSSEVA has sent out 6,000 activity packets and started calling seniors twice a week to check on them because many can’t leave their homes.

According to Zollos, the agency is also working on a project to help educate more seniors on how to use technology and smart phones to stay active with friends, family and the community.

Zollos said previously SSSEVA would provide 100,000 meals per year, but so far they have provided 325,000 this year. But the funds are drying up.

“What has happened in the last two months is that we’ve had to cut down on the number of meals we are sending out because our resources for meals, activity packets and ways we connect with older adults have expired, so we are looking for donations,” Zollos said.

According to Zollos, right now there are 97 people on the waiting list for the Meals on Wheels program.

The program was delivering 6,000 meals a week, but that’s now down to 3,000 per week. Up until November, people were getting two meals per day, but now they only get one.

Zollos said another major problem is the social isolation that so many seniors are feeling.

“The growth of the implications of being socially isolated for so long is rightfully starting to take center stage,” Zollos said.

Many seniors are suffering due to being stuck in their home and not able to see others. Zollos said this is leading to depression and other major health problems.

Barber said she really enjoys her job and helping those who need extra support. She has hope for the future.

“It will get better, just keep praying,” Barber said. “It will get better, it will just take time to get there.”

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