Submitted by Gerry Queally, President & CEO Spectrum Generations
As a nonprofit operating in central Maine, we, like many others, are consistently challenged by our environment and how we can operate and provide services. But since 1972, that’s what we’ve been doing – providing services for older and disabled adults, including Meals on Wheels. Challenges have come and gone, some still remain, like sufficient funding for Meals on Wheels that matches the need of those in our communities. Some have been alleviated for now, thanks to funding approved by the legislature to increase reimbursement rates for direct care workers, providing in-home care and supports to homebound adults.
All of this was before COVID-19; everything since has taught us lessons but also increased partnerships and support, ultimately allowing us to serve more people. Prior to COVID-19 we were serving approximately 800 people Meals on Wheels, both through our own commercial kitchens and through our partner subcontractors. As of May 4, we are serving 1,347 people – a 67% service increase.
This type of output does not happen in a vacuum. The greatest early need we experienced was with volunteers. Just under 100 volunteers chose to stay at home for their own safety due to social distancing, but we have since been able to recruit 130 new volunteers, about 100 who are active each week and others who remain as backup. These new volunteers have come primarily from businesses who have previously sponsored our fundraising events, friends of current volunteers, and through social media. All have been quick to raise a hand and jump in where extra help is needed, and we continue to keep our quarantining volunteers engaged with us through calls, emails and social media.
Another great outpouring of support came from business and community partners when we needed extra freezer space, offsite from our own two commercial kitchens, to store over 12,000 meals. Snow Pond Center for the Arts first inquired about how they could best help us, and we quickly shipped some meals to them. Our food vendor, PFG Northcenter was not only able to store our meals, but provided pallets and connections to other businesses for the boxes we store them in.
Additional support from Caswell’s Discount Wholesale and Bowdoin College in Brunswick allowed us to safely store the rest of our frozen meals offsite, helping ensure adequate room remains in our commercial kitchens which continue their daily operations of preparing and packing meals. In the event one of our kitchens needs to close, we can pull meals from one of our storage partners.
Financial support from individuals and businesses has also put us in a position to be able to serve more people than ever. The majority of federal funding for the services we provide is yet to come through but we know it will be there; the money we have received early on during the pandemic allowed us to purchase food and supplies up front. The United Ways have also been outstanding partners – not only coordinating a large statewide donation to all Meals on Wheels providers through Central Maine Power, but granting us emergency funds. Some of the earliest support we received was from the United Way of Kennebec Valley which quickly allowed us to ramp up production; United Way of Mid Coast Maine also provided a grant for fabric masks so we could outfit the Personal Support Specialists who go into people’s homes to care for them.
We are forever grateful to the people who have supported us, and continue to do so, and look forward to a day when we can welcome them again in our community and resource centers. We are currently working on a plan that aligns with the Governor’s stages for reopening; it remains our priority to safely resume all operations serving older and disabled adults throughout central and midcoast Maine.
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