Joe Cunningham, left, and Bob Warkentin carry food bags as volunteers were picking up their Meals on Wheels orders to deliver in Niagara Falls and areas. – Bob Tymczyszyn , Torstar

Meals on Wheels modifies deliveries due to COVID-19

by Alison Langley  The Niagara Falls Review

Food requests have spiked at Meals on Wheels in Niagara Falls in recent weeks as people practise social distancing in the wake of COVID-19.

“There’s been an increase in our frozen meals this week, almost double what we had been doing on a weekly basis,” said executive director Marianne McRae.

She said the non-profit volunteer service, which provides home delivery of hot or frozen meals, is so far able to accommodate the increase in demand.

At issue these days, however, is how the food can be delivered without putting the health of both clients and volunteers at risk during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are conducting business as close to usual as possible,” McRae said.

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, volunteers would pick up food at the Meals on Wheels’ office at Greater Niagara General Hospital.

The hospital is now closed to visitors, so agency staff are handing out meals to volunteers in a nearby parking lot.

In the past, volunteers would often stay and chat with clients. That isn’t possible due to new social-distancing guidelines.

Volunteers, equipped with disposable gloves and hand sanitizer, no longer enter a client’s home.

Volunteer Michelle Ha speaks with Marianne McRae, executive director of Meals on Wheels Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake, as drivers were picking up their Meals on Wheels orders to deliver. – Bob Tymczyszyn , Torstar

“We basically knock on the door and leave the meal for them,” McRae explained.

“The volunteers make sure the client opens the door to receive the meal — we want to make sure they are OK — then we step away, and that keeps both parties safe.”

Also, crews have replaced insulated carrying bags, which would require disinfecting after each delivery, with single use plastic bags.

“For the moment, that is what we’ve come up with, which is the safest for everybody,” McRae said.

The local program, which serves Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake, is open to anyone who is at “nutritional risk.” That may include the elderly, people with physical challenges and those recently discharged from hospital.

Each year, an army of nearly 200 volunteers delivers 35,000 meals to 800-plus clients.

“We will not stop,” McRae said of the current situation. “We are considered an essential service and our whole purpose is to keep people safe in their own homes and not in hospitals.”

She said new volunteers are always welcome, as some of the volunteer drivers have had to take a step back at this time.

The Yerich family, which owns the Holiday Inn in Niagara Falls, recently donated toilet paper and other essentials from its hotel to the agency to distribute to clients.

For further information, visit or phone 905-356-7548 or 1-877-665-6325.