Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Meals on Wheels of Albuquerque experienced a dramatic increase in demand for its Low Income Food and Enrichment (LIFE) program, the only meal-delivery service in the Albuquerque area providing specialized meals at reduced or no cost for low-income community members.
From March through mid-May last year, Meals on Wheels of Albuquerque saw the number of community members receiving emergency meals rise more than 254% and the number of emergency meals delivered increase by nearly 430%.
Shauna Frost, executive director of Meals on Wheels of Albuquerque, said that the organization received many panicked calls early in the pandemic with people worried they would have to choose between their safety or food.
Older adults who had previously been able to get food and cook on their own found they needed help during a public health emergency that left seniors and people with health conditions especially vulnerable.
In the wake of the pandemic, the need for the LIFE program — which is solely grant- and donor-funded — remains high.
Fortunately, many donors in the community stepped up to help the organization address the increased demand. This year, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico awarded a $47,385 grant to Meals on Wheels of Albuquerque for the LIFE program, providing 6,581 meals to support the health and wellness of low-income community members and seniors.
Before the pandemic, Albuquerque resident and retired hairstylist Gigi* volunteered at a local retirement facility three days per week to cut and style residents’ hair. As coronavirus struck New Mexico, Gigi, like many people, had to stop her normal activities, including visiting with her grandson.
Gigi lives with heart, lung and immune system conditions that put her at high risk of severe complications from COVID-19. She signed up for Meals on Wheels’ emergency meal delivery program and now looks forward to seeing the Meals on Wheels volunteers every day.
“Being hungry shouldn’t be anybody’s problem,” Gigi said. “You all are keeping me going!”
The program, which serves hundreds of people every year, provides nutritionally designed, home-delivered meals to meet the needs of clients living with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease and other conditions. Meals on Wheels’ Local Harvest program purchases fresh fruit and vegetables from local farms for the meals, helping clients access nutritious foods while also supporting the local economy.
In addition, clients are eligible to receive weekend food boxes and support for their pets, including food, veterinary care, dog walking and mobile grooming.
“Having a companion animal can be incredibly helpful in reducing depression,” Frost said. “Taking care of their pets allows them to be happier, healthier people.”
Not only does the program provide needed resources to community members in need, but the volunteers who deliver the meals also offer an important source of human connection for homebound clients.
“We hear a lot of ‘thank you for the volunteers and thank you for the friendship,’” Frost said. “We’re delivering peace of mind, safety and friendship. It’s so much more than a meal.”
To learn more about meal service, volunteer opportunities and other programs at Meals on Wheels of Albuquerque, visit mow-nm.org.