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Delivering smiles no matter what

For Suffolk Meals on Wheels, it will take more than a pandemic or a little rain to slow them down.

Many senior citizens would not eat if it were not for the Meals on Wheels food deliveries, but that would not be the only service that would be missed. Not delivering meals means missing personal connections the clients look forward to in these lonely times.

“We are very fortunate with the community support we received this year,” said Angelica Yankauskas, executive director at Suffolk Meals on Wheels. “When COVID hit last spring, I had to make decisions on whether we were to continue and how. The thought of not delivering meals never crossed my mind. Our clients are in a greater need now than before COVID came.”

John Butrick is a paid driver that delivers Monday through Friday, completing more than 300 miles a week in the Suffolk Meals on Wheels van, and has worked with the program for over a decade.

“The thing is with a lot of the people we see, you’re the only one they see that week,” he said. “Just like our van says, we deliver smiles. We have people who will ask you to take trash or help them do things around the house because of having mobility issues. We try to get the lonely ones at the end, so we have time to spend helping and talking with them.”

In 2020, Suffolk Meals on Wheels served 138 clients and 42,000 meals on their 10 routes through Suffolk, Windsor and Isle of Wight. According to Yankauskas, it is important to regularly have the same people to go to the client’s homes to deliver.

“It’s especially important during COVID with family not coming in as much,” she said. “This is a way to check in with seniors and those with disabilities. We can alert the family of any changes or something wrong. We are an extra set of eyes. Our drivers choose their route and are able to get to know clients. It’s been helpful if something is wrong since they know them and can go with their gut and call it in. It’s been very helpful over the years.”

Ed Taylor is a volunteer who started helping his wife, Anntoinette or “Toni,” deliver meals over five years ago. She has helped with Meals on Wheels for around 20 years, and once her delivery partner retired from it, Ed stepped in to help.

“Basically, it’s about the contact we make with people,” he said. “It’s a good program. It’s just really beneficial to folks who get the meals. This helps make their day, and some never see the daytime, and they enjoy it when we tell them that it’s raining or sunny outside. They really appreciate the personal contact we bring.”

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, personal connections look different than before. The drivers call the client when they are five minutes away and, after arriving, place the food in a clean plastic bag on a specified place on the porch. The driver can either return to their car to watch the client pick up the food or take 10 steps back to still be able to catch up.

“We have to call in to the office if no one comes out to get the food,” said Butrick. “It’s our way of making sure they are all right.”

There are other ways that Suffolk Meals on Wheels still make connections, even through distance. Clients are given cards for their birthday or other life events, like having a new grandchild or losing a loved one. Extra goodies are also included with their meals for Christmas and Thanksgiving. Donors also contributed items to give, including toilet paper, masks, emergency supplies and crossword puzzles.

“We have great community allies thinking of our folks,” said Yankauskas. “We’re also really tight with clients’ pets. We bring them treats, so they come running when they hear us come.”

Suffolk Meals on Wheels is always looking for new volunteers. They lost many volunteers, most of whom were retired seniors, due to COVID-19. However, Suffolk Meals on Wheels has gained a lot, since many knew the original volunteers are those most vulnerable to the virus.

To volunteer or learn more, visit suffolkmealsonwheels.com.