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Metro Meals on Wheels needs 3K more volunteers to meet demand

Demand for meals remains up 50% since the pandemic began, but volunteer support has fallen off following an early spike.

NEW HOPE, Minn. — There was a flurry of activity at The Food Group in New Hope on Tuesday morning, all aimed at supporting Metro Meals on Wheels.

"These are our blizzard blitz bags that we're packing today," said Chanel Rivers, a United Healthcare employee who helped organize a group of co-workers to assemble emergency food kits for Meals on Wheels recipients. "What we want to do is give them shelf-stable items, in the case that people can't deliver things to them."

The Blizzard Blitz is an annual tradition, but, since the pandemic began, demand for the blue bags and all other meals is up 50%.

"It's been a crazy 18 months, that's for sure," said Patrick Rowan, Executive Director of Metro Meals on Wheels.

Since KARE 11 last visited the Meals on Wheels kitchen in February, Rowan says production has actually increased slightly - from 10,000 to 11,000 meals a day - but the number of volunteers available to pack and deliver those meals has decreased.

"At the beginning of the pandemic, people were sent home, they had some extra time and people really wanted to help," he said. "We saw over 3,000 people sign up in the first week to volunteer for Meals on Wheels."

At that time, meals were frozen and delivered just once a week due to pandemic restrictions, meaning Meals on Wheels had more than enough help. Now, daily deliveries have resumed and Rowan says help is harder to find than ever.

Kent Erdahl: "How many more volunteers do you really need right now."

Rowan: "We figure we need about 3,000."

Erdahl: "3,000?"

Rowan: "Yeah, we have routes that are going out every day, but not everyone volunteers every day."

For Rivers, volunteering started long before the Blizzard Blitz, but she says it's more rewarding now, than ever.

"I've been volunteering for Meals on Wheels for years," she said. "I think the biggest thing is, people are just so grateful. Not to say that that wasn't the case before, but it's just like, you know it's been a hard time and the level of gratefulness is just so apparent."

For those interested in helping out, Rowan says there are plenty of flexible options near you.

Rowan: "It really only takes an hour a day, an hour a week, hour a month, whatever people are able to commit, to help about a dozen neighbors in need."

Erdahl: "Do you worry that some of these bags will be needed, not for a blizzard, but because people can't be delivered to?" 

Rowan: "That's one thing that I've learned in my many years of working for Meals on Wheels. It gets done. Somehow we're going to figure it out. Somehow it will get done. People will step up and help. We just need to get the word out there and let folks know where they can help."

If you can help volunteer for Meals on Wheels, click here.