What do the people of Monterey County do when their neighbors need more meals delivered? They develop food delivery partnerships, create jobs, and support local restaurants!
When the COVID-19 pandemic led to lockdown and shelter-in-place orders in late March of 2020, Salinas Valley’s Meals on Wheels saw an immediate increase in demand for their meal delivery services as many members of the community suddenly became homebound. This influx in demand created a larger need for volunteers to make more food deliveries. This presented a dilemma because many volunteers needed to stay home themselves! With greater demand for services and fewer resources to meet that demand, MOW’s Regina Gage, Executive Director, and Laurie Bend, Outreach Director, connected with their community to talk about possible solutions. “We just started talking to people to see who could help or who had ideas.” Within a matter of days, a new program called, “MASA,” Meals on Wheels of the Salinas Valley and their Salinas Valley community partners in action, began to take shape. With several generous donations from individuals and the Community Foundation for Monterey County, and the trust those donors had in the organizations and people leading the effort, the MASA program was off and running by March 30, 2020, within one week of the start of shelter-in-place.
Meals on Wheels (MoW), Independent Transportation Network (ITN) of Monterey County, Monterey Salinas Transit (MST), and six restaurants collaborated on the innovative MASA program. Freshly prepared, hearty meals were delivered 5-days-a-week to over 280 additional homebound seniors throughout Monterey County for 13 of the most difficult weeks of the pandemic. With funding specifically to aid vulnerable residents during the pandemic, Meals on Wheels allowed anyone who was homebound to place an order for meals. The usual application process and the over 60-year-olds requirement was not a prerequisite for receiving a MASA meal. A simple phone call allowed people to order what they needed and receive food deliveries starting the next day. Jessica McKillip, The Executive Director of ITN, shared that this partnership allowed for thousands of hot meals to be delivered to Monterey County residents who did not have reliable transportation.
Through this collaboration, MoW was able to continue to meet the needs of vulnerable seniors, ITN Monterey County and MST were able to keep their paid staff working as they provided the additional and expanded delivery services throughout the county, and six family-owned restaurants were able to continue to cook and serve food knowing they would have a steady stream of orders. MASA was truly a winner for all the clients served, partners, and community volunteers who came together to design a program when the need was great and the spirit of collaboration was at its best.
MoW has been serving the Salinas Valley community for nearly 50 years. Before the pandemic, MoW served frozen meals to over 200 seniors every week. Through partnering with other organizations, MoW served approximately 16,000 additional restaurant-prepared meals during the 13 weeks of the MASA program. Unfortunately, this program was discontinued due to lack of funding. According to Regina, “We would have enjoyed continuing this program as we still see an increase in the number of seniors needing meal deliveries. It’s amazing how quickly this all came together. There was a big need and it was immediate. There was no time for meetings and planning--we just had to start. We figured it out very quickly as it got rolling!”
Jessica McKillip is proud of the partnership and collaboration that made such a difference to so many. “While our focus may be on senior transportation, that doesn’t mean we can’t come together and think creatively about how best to address urgent community needs. We pivoted our operations away from transporting people and we became a vital delivery service.” ITN has been providing rides in Monterey County to seniors over 60-years-old and visually impaired adults over 18-years-old for the past eight years. Partnering to help the MASA program succeed has opened doors for ITN to collaborate in the future. McKillip concluded, “A resilient community thrives when you are capable of making adjustments and changing as the community’s needs change.”
Learn more about ITN Monterey County at https://www.itnmontereycounty.org/
Learn more about Meals on Wheels of the Salinas Valley at https://mowsalinas.org/