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Meals on Wheels volunteers have to stay at home. College kids are taking up their shifts.

Most delivery volunteers with Meals on Wheels are older than 55. While they self-isolate, college students are stepping in to fill the gap.

Meals on Wheels volunteers have to stay at home. College kids are taking up their shifts.
Image Source: Buntiam/Getty Images

Millions of senior citizens across America rely on Meals on Wheels, a meal delivery service for the elderly, for their nourishment. Volunteers usually deliver these meals to those in their neighborhood, but almost 75 percent of all of the non-profit's volunteers are over the age of 55 years old. As they are all practicing self-isolation in order to prevent themselves from contracting the novel Coronavirus, the organization has been in serious need of volunteers to ensure elderly folks still have food to eat. Thankfully, college students are stepping in to fill the gap, The Washington Post reports.



In the last month alone, a third of the volunteers who work with Meals on Wheels' Mercer County chapter has taken a step back from their regular volunteering duties. Of their 180 volunteers, only 120 remain. 45 new volunteers have stepped in to take their place and almost half of all the new volunteers are college students. Nate Byrnes, a 21-year-old biology student at the College of New Jersey, is one of them. "I was trying to figure out something, anything, that I could do to help," he said. "I feel like [this is] a really good way to be able to do something to help, especially when it seems like right now there aren’t that many ways we can help."



Byrnes, who is an aspiring doctor and a "not-quite-certified emergency medical technician," felt overwhelmed by the current public health crisis. He shared, "All of the ambulance squads are totally overwhelmed. ERs are totally overwhelmed." He wished he had been a little further along in his education or had taken his EMT test sooner. As he grew more frustrated thinking about all the ways he could have helped out during this difficult time, he discovered a way he - and anyone with a valid driver's license - could volunteer time and service. Now, every Monday morning, he loads the trunk of his car with an insulated bag of hot meals and a cooler of cold food to deliver them to senior citizens in need across his neighborhood.



While Sasa Olessi Montaño, the chief executive of Meals on Wheels of Mercer County, is sad to hear about the dozens of older volunteers who cannot help out due to fears of contracting the deadly virus, she is thankful for all the young people who have stepped in. She affirmed, "We’re so grateful to have students jumping in." The Mercer County chapter serves 300 elderly folks and homebound people. During this difficult time, their outreach is "keeping seniors alive." Although their work has always been a lifesaving mission, it is especially critical now more than ever. Senior citizens are at greater risk of mortality due to Coronavirus. Therefore, self-isolation is imperative for them.



Meals on Wheels of Mercer County has always worked with young people. In the past, Olessi Montaño brought in nursing students as “friendly visitors” for seniors. Further to this, all the meal prep for Meals on Wheels is done out of the kitchen of the nearby Rider University. Nonetheless, this is the first time the chapter is specifically targeting college students to fill in the "boots-on-the-ground" role as delivery volunteers. The non-profit has taken to social media and existing volunteers to recruit their children or grandchildren. The chief executive said, "Some students are coming with their parents, or a friend, or a significant other, but we’ve definitely seen an uptick in younger volunteers." Of course, the regular volunteers will return when it is safer to do so. However, while they take a short "sabbatical" from all the good work they have been doing, college students are more than happy to fill in the gap.



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