The Grocery Assistance Program (GAP) at Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland (MOWCM), started 20 years ago to provide additional shopping assistance to homebound individuals who cannot shop for themselves. Participants are matched with a dedicated volunteer and together they agree on a shopping schedule. The volunteer shops and delivers the needed items from the participant’s list. Strong bonds are often formed through months or years of the shopping partnership.

Eric J. began volunteering with Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland as a meal packer in 2015. On his way out one day, he learned about the Grocery Assistance Program from a staff member and knew immediately he wanted to sign up as a volunteer! Since then, Eric has worked with several clients, including Sylvia B., a 66-year-old Home-Delivered Meal Program (HDMP) and GAP client that is currently living in Randallstown, Maryland. Eric has come to know Sylvia well through the years, learning about each other’s families, stories, and preferences. In fact, Eric has her weekly shopping list memorized including cleaning supplies, sherbet, ginger ale, and no salt potato chips.

On one occasion, Eric noticed that Sylvia was always buying new plastic tablecloths. In response, Eric decided to sew her a home-made fabric tablecloth that would last much longer. Another time, Eric worked with the home-delivered meal team to surprise Sylvia by delivering her meals as well as groceries. It is these little More than a meal™ touches that mean so much to clients and volunteers alike and have truly solidified Eric and Sylvia’s bond.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to increased demand for both home-delivered meal and grocery assistance services. Many individuals who were able to go to the grocery store in the past have now found themselves unexpectedly vulnerable and prefer to stay safe at home. Some older adults may now be isolated from family and friends who are no longer able to help with shopping. From January to August 2020, the program has served 471 total clients- an increase of more than 30% from all of 2019. During the COVID-19 pandemic, GAP volunteers and clients have also made adjustments to their delivery routines, including quick drop-offs and social distancing. Prior to the onset of the virus, Sylvia enjoyed going to her local library. While she is currently not able to engage in the social activities that she loves, she “trusts that everything will be okay, especially with the support of my volunteer, Eric.”

If you need help with grocery shopping or know someone who does, please use our “Apply for Meals” application.

Interested in becoming a GAP volunteer? Email Volunteer Support Services.

This story was originally published in the Fall 2020 issue of our MealTimes newsletter.