Meals on Wheels Launches Innovative Outreach Program to Connect with Homebound Seniors

Volunteers and donations needed to support increased demand throughout COVID-19 crisis.

CINCINNATI—As the coronavirus continues to threaten the health of local seniors, Meals on Wheels Southwest OH & Northern KY is leveraging the web-based platform Mobilize—used to engage volunteers and get out the vote during elections—to make check-in phone calls to home-bound seniors. The nonprofit launched the first-of-its-kind pilot program at the end of March and will extend the service throughout the region in the coming weeks.

Requests for Meals on Wheels’ services have nearly tripled. Many seniors who may have previously relied on family and friends for food, shopping and companionship are now alone and without financial support due to quarantine and job loss.

Using Mobilize, Meals on Wheels can recruit, train and schedule volunteers to connect directly with seniors in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. If a senior reports food insecurity, the Meals on Wheels team can respond immediately with an emergency food delivery and assess the need for ongoing services.

“Seniors are most at-risk for serious complications from COVID-19, so we don’t want them leaving their homes to get food and increasing their chances of catching the virus,” said Jennifer Steele, Executive Director, Meals on Wheels Southwest OH & Northern KY. “No senior should go hungry during this pandemic. This new program allows us to reach seniors who may not otherwise have the necessary support system required to stay fed throughout this crisis.”

To support the influx of new seniors in need, Meals on Wheels needs urgent donations. No senior is turned away during the crisis. Without donations from individuals, foundations and corporate partners, Meals on Wheels cannot continue to meet the increased demand. Donors can make contributions online or reach out to Meals on Wheels team.

“Earlier this week, we connected with a 92-year-old senior who reported not having enough food and being scared to leave the house because of coronavirus risks,” said Steele. “We were able to secure a volunteer to deliver meals directly to that senior’s door just hours later, completely paid for by charitable donations.”

Meals on Wheels provides several donation options to support emergency meals for seniors:

  • $50 provides a nonperishable 14-day emergency box of meals
  • $100 buys a month of dairy and fresh produce
  • $250 supports one month of home-delivered lunches
  • $600 provides one month of breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • $1,250 provides 6 months of home-delivered lunches

Volunteers who participated in the pilot program have already connected with nearly 2,000 local seniors. To be able to reach seniors throughout the entire region in coming weeks, Meals on Wheels needs approximately 90 additional volunteers to make calls.

Jens Sutmoller, a political campaign and public affairs consultant, developed the idea and brought it to Meals on Wheels. He continues working closely with the Meals on Wheels team on a pro bono basis to help establish the call campaign.

“I’ve worked with phonebank and volunteer technology like Mobilize in the past, and it is the perfect platform to help Meals on Wheels increase its reach to connect with more seniors in need throughout this crisis,” said Sutmoller. “I’m proud to support Meals on Wheels’ efforts with these repurposed tools.” 

Meals on Wheels is also collaborating with United Way of Greater Cincinnati, one of the program’s initial funders, to incorporate United Way’s 211 support system into the Mobilize platform.

“We know seniors are at high risk during this pandemic and in need of food, but many have other needs too, and they don’t know where to turn,” said Moira Weir, United Way of Greater Cincinnati President and CEO. “Through our ongoing collaboration with Meals on Wheels, we were able to connect their technology to our 211 system and offer seniors other resources for paying rent, filling medications and meeting other needs so they stay safe at home.”