On October 3, 1960, a small group of volunteers lovingly prepared and delivered food to 10 clients in Baltimore, beginning the home-delivered meal program that would become Meals onWheels of Central Maryland. For 60 years, volunteers have not only been a part of the organization, but at the heart of all that we do. From daily deliveries to wellness calls and companion visits to bagging bread and packing boxes on Haven Street, volunteers have played a vital role in the development and growth of MOWCM throughout the decades.

When COVID-19 struck in 2020, our volunteer team was ready. Between March and June 2020, hundreds of new people signed up to volunteer, more than doubling our dedicated force. Individuals new to MOWCM joined the volunteer team to pack and deliver, while many who could no longer volunteer to deliver meals chose to give in other ways. Whatever the circumstance or motivation, volunteer Eva A. was spot on when she said, “All of the volunteers are clearly dedicated to the mission of feeding others.”

In the wake of the pandemic, volunteer training and other procedures were quickly adapted to keep everyone protected, and packing stations were carefully arranged to ensure safety. Health screening questionnaires, hand sanitation, and wearing masks became a daily ritual, but our volunteers took it in stride.

New routines were created and new opportunities were born from the challenges presented by the pandemic, from packing the much-needed frozen meal boxes for delivery, to cupping fruit, bagging bread or assembling the box itself. Volunteers such as Phillip Y. energetically responded, “I will go wherever you need the most help.” Packing meals can be tiring and strenuous work, but volunteers like Will W. enjoy the fulfillment of “getting into the groove and packing hundreds of meals in a few short hours.”

In place of the wellness visit at the time of delivery, Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland started the new Client Wellness Calls (CWC) program to ensure our clients did not experience the isolation that is all too familiar to homebound aging adults, and now compounded by the pandemic. The CWC program connects a client with a volunteer for twice weekly phone calls, allowing volunteers to check-in, offer companionship and report any concerns that may be shared.

Volunteering for MOWCM is rewarding and beneficial, both to the community and to the individual. New volunteer, Veronica B. expresses this feeling saying, “I feel at home when I volunteer at MOWCM, it is such a good way to spend my time.” Pat O. who volunteers as a meal-packer explains that “The COVID-19 pandemic has come with challenges, however, it has shown me the good in humanity that is able to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”

Our volunteers have found connection and purpose through giving back, while providing clients the nutrition and companionship they need to thrive. Meredith, Katie and Spencer are living proof.

Meredith O., GAP Volunteer: Meredith is a loving mother to three daughters, who enjoys being in the medical field. One night while watching television, she noticed the governor speaking about the important work of feeding organizations such as MOWCM. Meredith knew she wanted to be a part of it and signed up to be a GAP volunteer. Meredith has found GAP to be a lot of fun and it “feels good to see clients so happy.” While the COVID-19 pandemic requires social distancing and masks, the experience still, “brings a smile to my heart, doing for others, rather than myself.”

Katie S., Meal Packing Volunteer: Katie is an animal-loving mom of four adult children. After spending some time traveling, she knew she wanted to start volunteering again and quickly found MOWCM. Starting just before the coronavirus pandemic, Katie has seen the ability of MOWCM to “figure it out and make it happen.” She has become a vital part of the volunteer team, coming into the office to pack meals three to four times each week. She says that “Volunteering is not only a way to give back, but can get you out of the house, safely engaging all parties positively.” Her labor of love is what makes it all possible.

Spencer P., Meal Packing Volunteer: Spencer is a Junior in college on a pre-med track who was interested in helping others during the pandemic while at home on summer break. Early in the summer, he began to search for something to do and found MOWCM advertised on the governor’s website. He signed up for a meal packing shift at the Haven Street office and did not look back. Throughout the summer months, Spencer came into the office to volunteer for four-hour shifts, five days each week. He really enjoyed the work and the people and “just kept coming back!” He loved that everyone knew what they were working for and that the mission of delivering food to homebound individuals was never lost.

All of our volunteers, whether a veteran or a new recruit, are vital to our mission and are truly “here when we need them most.”