Outside of Judson Memorial Baptist Church in Kingfield, Nancy Biele smiled and waved to Meals on Wheels volunteers as they picked up the day’s deliveries.
“We’re talking to people we haven’t heard from in a long time,” one longtime volunteer told her from her car.
March 25 was the first day of a new delivery model for the Judson Church-based Meals on Wheels program, which is operated by the interfaith coalition TRUST. Biele is interim executive director.
Over 35 people volunteered to deliver meals to clients. On a typical weekday, about 11 to 13 volunteer.
“The volunteers are coming out of the woodwork,” program director Eleonore Balbach said.
Across Southwest Minneapolis, nonprofit organizations have reported an uptick in volunteer support amid the coronavirus pandemic that has brought life to a standstill. Leaders say the need for their services remains strong or is increasing.
Lorrie Sandelin, director of Joyce Uptown Food Shelf, said the organization served 290 households over the last two weeks of March. “People are just so grateful that we’re still open and that they know they still can depend on us,” she said.
Joyce Uptown Food Shelf is typically open five afternoons and one night a week. People are free to come once or twice a month to pick up food. No one is generally turned away.
The organization has switched to a “takeout” distribution model since the pandemic. Bags are set aside for people to pick up. Clients still have some choice in the food they receive, Sandelin said, but less than before.
Sandelin said available volunteer spots have quickly filled up over the past month. The food shelf isn’t accepting food donations at this point but accepts monetary donations on its website.
Cash donations are the most important thing food shelves need right now, said Jill Westfall, program and communications manager for the nonprofit Hunger Solutions Minnesota, a statewide food shelf membership organization. Food shelves can leverage those donations to buy items they need, whether that’s food or supplies, she said.
Westfall said it’s likely food shelves will see more demand as the number of people laid off because of the pandemic increases. Organizations are moving to a prepacked distribution model, she said, in order to limit the number of people in their buildings.
At Provision Community Restaurant, a nonprofit near Lake & Harriet, executive director Anna Wienke and her team are creating prepacked meals that anyone can pick up, no questions asked.
Provision opened this past fall and, before the pandemic, it served family-style dinners Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and brunch on Saturdays. Diners were encouraged to pay what they could, though no one was turned away for lack of funds.
The organization began its daily prepacked meal service on March 18 and is now reaching about 75 people a day, including deliveries made at the Whittier Recreation Center.
The organization has also started providing lunches seven days a week for people at an emergency shelter run by Simpson Housing Services.
The pandemic drastically changed Provision’s model. The restaurant’s primary suppliers of baked goods, produce and dairy closed operations. Instead, they’ve relied in part on food donated from restaurants that shut down because of the pandemic. For example, they received a donation of lamb and lamb meatballs from Nightingale at 26th & Lyndale, which has limited its operations, and used it to make a lamb stew.
“We hope that people don’t get too used to us having all of that,” Wienke said.
Wienke said monetary donations would be helpful for Provision and that a major April fundraiser has been cancelled. The restaurant is also taking food donations.
On March 16, when Gov. Tim Walz announced that he would close bars and restaurants, Wienke said there was talk among Provision board members about shuttering the restaurant. “For us that would mean that we would not probably be able to open back up,” she said.
Wienke asked the board to give her team a week to serve the community prepacked meals. She said she’s confident the organization will make it through April.
A Facebook fundraiser garnered over $7,900. Wienke also said that Provision’s landlord has been open to working with the restaurant on rent.
“We really are truly taking each day one day at a time and sticking to what our mission is,” she said.
Caring for seniors
Back at the Judson church-based Meals on Wheels program, there were 13 new clients who signed up to receive meals between the weeks of March 16 and March 23.
The organization switched to a weekly delivery model from a daily one. Volunteers were asked to place meals at clients’ doors instead of handing them to them once on site.
To ensure clients still have person-to-person interaction, Balbach has set up a “buddy” system where clients and volunteers check in via email or phone.
Longtime volunteer Zan Ceeley, who delivered meals via bike on March 25, said she had received a text delivery confirmation from a client.
Craig Wiester, a Judson church member who has delivered for a couple of months, said volunteering for Meals on Wheels gives him an excuse to get out of his home. “I saw the gas station at [36th & Lyndale] selling gas for $1.69, but where am I going to go?” he said.
He’s been keeping in touch with friends and older members of Judson church who he knows are alone, just to make sure they’re doing OK.
“This is totally isolating for seniors who are living alone and suddenly they can’t get out,” said Biele, the executive director of TRUST. “They’re watching way too much news because it’s on all the time, and that’s terrifying. We’re there to say, ‘It’s OK, we’re all right.’”
Patti Cullen, CEO of Care Providers Minnesota, said people who live in long-term care facilities face somewhat less isolation, because they are still connecting with staff and other residents.
Nursing homes and other care facilities have been restricting visitors and volunteers and limiting group activities, following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control. Many senior homes are accepting cards and letters for distribution, Cullen said. One idea she suggested for raising residents’ and caregivers’ spirits is to send flowers.
At Mount Olivet Home and Mount Olivet Careview Home in Windom, staff aren’t accepting flower donations but will take small vases, said Tom Litecky, director of community relations.
Cards and video messages, even if they aren’t addressed to particular residents, would also be welcome. So would new games, puzzle books, spa products and lotions, provided they are sealed.
Musical birthday greetings
Across Southwest Minneapolis, people have also been helping one another by simply lifting each other’s spirits.
The past two Sundays, many residents of the 4600 block of Vincent Avenue have held a group sing-a-long while standing in their yards. Barb and Sim Glaser have led the group in song, Sim’s guitar buoyed by an amplifier. On March 29, they led their block, which sits on a steep hill, in songs like “If I Had a Hammer” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”
Eight days earlier, a group of Minnesota Orchestra musicians helped colleague Steve Campbell celebrate his 48th birthday by playing a rendition of “Happy Birthday” from a social distance outside of Campbell’s Bryn Mawr home.
The group also played “Deep in the Heart of Texas” for Campbell, a native Texan who has played tuba in the orchestra for 15 years.
“I had tears in my eyes, one just to see my good friends and [also] realize how lucky I am to be able to play with such great colleagues,” he said.
It’s a sentiment many people across Southwest Minneapolis have felt throughout the past month.
“I think there’s been a great sense of community, at least around us,” Sandelin said. “It’s just apparent now, too, how the community really embraces other people in our community.”