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Business Observer Wednesday, Mar. 25, 2020 1 week ago

Nonprofit works to keep delivering meals during coronavirus crisis

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Meals on Wheels of Sarasota has changed some procedures to keep volunteers and clients safe during coronavirus.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

Every company, organization and individual has been affected by coronavirus in some way, including an area nonprofit dedicated to providing meals for some of the most vulnerable members of the community.

The list of clients Meals on Wheels of Sarasota serves includes homebound people who are physically and mentally impaired, from the young to the elderly, from pregnant women to veterans.

Meals on Wheels of Sarasota Executive Director Marjorie Broughton says the organization is taking extra steps to ensure the safety of its clients, volunteers and staff.

The nonprofit serves the northern portion of Sarasota County from University Parkway to Blackburn Point Road, including Longboat, Lido and Siesta keys. It provides a minimum of about 600 meals a day, which are delivered six days a week, with two meals delivered on Saturdays.

The organization is run by four full-time and three part-time employees along with an army of 750 volunteers. So far, Broughton says she’s only lost three volunteers due to coronavirus — people in their 80s who were concerned about continuing to help in the current atmosphere.

For those involved with Meals on Wheels, daily procedures have changed in several ways. Instead of coming inside the nonprofit’s facility on Lime Avenue to pick up meals, drivers pick up meals outside now. Everyone who comes into the facility, both volunteers and staff, has their temperature taken.

To deliver the meals, volunteers tie a plastic bag with the meal inside onto the doorknob of a residence, knock on the door and then step back 6 feet. Volunteers wait for the person to answer because the service includes a safety check. “We’re continuing to do that, but we’re doing it from more of a remote space,” Broughton says.

Meals on Wheels of Sarasota has also contacted its clients and told them to let the organization know if they need any essentials, such as toothpaste, soap or reading glasses. “Anything along those lines, we can make happen for them,” she says.

As a result of the virus, Broughton says she is taking in eight new clients every day. If that trend continues, it will pose challenges in terms of refrigerator space and workspace at the facility.

Another challenge might come in the form of funding because Broughton has had to cancel some spring events that bring in money. The organization has a $1 million operating budget for the year, and to cover costs, she has to raise $50,000 to $80,000 a month. She says she knows coronavirus has caused hardships for everyone, but if people are able to donate, even $25 will help.

Broughton is also worried about what will happen if the government calls for people to stay in their homes, and her volunteers aren’t able to deliver meals. “If we are not feeding them, they aren’t going to have anything to eat,” she says. “As long as they allow us to work, the food will keep going out.”

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