Nancy Griffin, MOW Volunteer

Meals on Wheels volunteers surmount challenges of pandemic

Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania    Tuesday, June 30, 2020

In early March, facing a decreasing number of Meals on Wheels volunteers for programs in the Pottsville and Shenandoah regions of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, Diakon Community Services invited prominent community members to help raise awareness of their plight during a “March for Meals” promotional event.

But as the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic emerged, Diakon staff postponed the activity. Fortunately, the call for help did not go unanswered.

“When I reached out to one of those community members to thank him for his support and explained the situation, he took it upon himself to post on Facebook that the Meals on Wheels crew was on the front lines and in need of help,” says Dana Oravitz, volunteer coordinator. “Within two hours, I had almost 20 people contact me. The outpouring from the professional community has been wonderful.”

The response continued in the weeks that followed with schoolteachers and college students impacted by the state-ordered shutdown also quick to volunteer.

“This is a little bit of the medicine I didn’t realize I needed.”

“While the majority of volunteers are from Shenandoah and Mahanoy City, we have new ones in the Pottsville area as well,” Oravitz says. “It has been nice to be part of this outpouring of help, especially during a time when we are all worried and concerned.”

Carolyn Tenaglia served as one of the new volunteers. A long-term care ombudsman for the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, Tenaglia recognizes what it is like to provide a vital service without enough hands. When she heard about the need for Meals on Wheels volunteers, she shared it with several friends and family members and soon at least 10 more people had reached out to Oravitz.

“I was aware that the network for supporting seniors was getting stressed,” Tenaglia says. “When you are in a situation where you feel helpless, it is nice to know there are people who want to make something happen, do something good.”

Carolyn Tenaglia volunteering for Meals on Wheels

Tenaglia requested a local route so she could easily return home and get back to work. Although somewhat nervous before her initial delivery, that feeling quickly passed as she realized how grateful and happy the clients were to see her.

“I was serving my hometown and knocking on doors, reconnecting with former Girl Scout leaders and Little League coaches—people who took care of me and my kids in a volunteer capacity,” she says. “It was so nice to be able to help them out!”

That ability to connect with clients has kept Nancy Griffin, a 78-year-old resident of Schuylkill Haven, volunteering for a dozen years.

“When I retired, I asked how I could help and got a delivery route,” says Griffin, adding that she drives anywhere from 25 to 35 miles to deliver meals. “I love my clients. I have a special bond with each one of them. They are all special and unique in their own way.”

Although Griffin’s clients miss welcoming her into their homes because of physical-distancing guidelines for delivering meals, they are thankful for the efforts to keep them safe.

“I take all the precautions they ask us to do,” she says. “I still talk briefly with all the people, while I stay my distance.”

Despite the limited interactions, Tenaglia says she enjoys delivering meals more than she initially expected.

“I got involved to help somebody else out, not realizing it would do a lot of good for me,” she says, adding that it is a challenging time and easy to get scared and frustrated. “This is a little bit of the medicine I didn’t realize I needed.”

Diakon Community Services manages Meals on Wheels under a contract with the Schuylkill County Office of Senior Services with funding provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging.


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