The program, which services seniors from West Hamilton Beach to Woodhaven to Rochdale Village, sometimes delivers upwards of 1,200 meals a day. Approximately 18 drivers – and they’re always looking for more – make deliveries six days a week, but deliver food for seven.
It’s run out of The Ozone Park Senior Center on 101st Avenue and funded through a joint effort by Department for the Aging and City Meals.
For many seniors, the daily delivery is the only hot meal they get every day. But more importantly, it’s often their only human interaction.
“Some of them, they want to talk because they have nobody else,” said Balroop Prima, a driver since 2009. “Some of the drivers have 50 to 60 stops, but we still give them five minutes to chat with them and see what’s going on.”
It’s not just the meals either, the drivers are also conducting a wellness check on the client.
“We look at them for signs of stress, signs of high blood pressure or disoriented,” Prima said. “All of these things we look at the make sure they are alright.”
Just last week, drivers placed three 911 calls while making their deliveries.
“It’s amazing that if the driver wasn’t there to go check on the client, to give them the food, who knows when they may have been checked on,” said program manager Kathy Dalbey.
Debra Hoffer, director of field operations, said those daily check-ins are especially important because about 20 percent of their clients are over 80 years old.
Recently, a driver was out making a delivery when she saw a client walking down the street in a confused state.
The driver was able to pick the woman up and bring her to the center, where they contacted the family and called 911 so she could receive proper medical care.
“If Meals on Wheels wasn’t involved and that driver didn’t have that personal relationship, that person would have been wandering and God knows what would have happened to her,” Hoffer said.
After Hurricane Sandy, drivers were bringing blankets and lanterns to clients and lending them their cell phones so they could call loved ones. They also often shovel walkways and bring seniors their mail.
Hoffer also pointed out the importance of funding for a program like Meals on Wheels at a time when there are very public talks about federal budget cuts. While this program specifically draws funding from city and state sources, similar programs require federal money to operate.
“Without this service, we have a lot of people at risk of going to nursing homes,” Hoffer said. “This helps keep them in the community.”