Meals on Wheels of NEPA delivers more than just nutritious meals during the holiday season. Every December, Meals on Wheels spreads comfort and joy to meal recipients in the form of a holiday gift.

Since 2017, the Meals on Wheels of NEPA Holiday Blanket Drive seeks donations of blankets, socks, word games and toiletries. These items are distributed to more than 1,000 homebound older adults and individuals with disabilities living throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Regular visits from volunteers to deliver meals are often the only contact individuals have with others. The gift of a blanket and toiletries might seem like a small gesture, but it may be the brightest gift during the holiday season for those who need it the most.

The agency is seeking new, unused and unopened donations of blankets, toiletries and socks, or monetary donations for the drive. Please contact Meals on Wheels of NEPA at 570-346-2421, mealsonwheels@mownepa.org or mealsonwheelsnepa.org to help support the drive.Lackawanna County has one of the largest populations of older adults in the Commonwealth. As the population ages, this vulnerable group will continue to grow in number and need. All too often, the population served by Meals on Wheels is characteristically isolated, malnourished, declining in health and struggle to live independently.

Meals on Wheels of NEPA supports the independent living of homebound seniors and disabled people through the delivery of nutrition and supportive services. The agency provides regular contact with clients through our robust set of programs, building a rapport that decreases social isolation and helps fight depression. The COVID-19 pandemic introduced seemingly insurmountable challenges for the organization. Meals on Wheels of NEPA not only faced these challenges head on, but did so while reaching more clients than ever with increased safety protocols.

The core programming of Meals on Wheels Community Services of NEPA is the Home Delivered Meals program. Individuals whose life circumstances make it difficult or impossible for them to prepare nourishing meals receive a hot meal delivered to them by volunteers or caring staff. In addition to keeping homebound individuals well-nourished, Meals on Wheels often provides the only human contact many of these people experience each day. During the 2021-22 fiscal year, the agency served a record-breaking 183,000 meals to more than 1,300 clients.

In addition to the Home Delivered Meal Program, Meals on Wheels of NEPA developed community health initiatives that collectively address a gap in health and human services. CHIs are cost-efficient programs that focus on the needs of clients that fall between home delivered meals and the deployment of in-home personal care or nursing services. CHIs include Community Health Outreach & Meals program, Treasured Friends Pet Food program and Fast Track Home from the Hospital Program.

CHOMP is a community health initiative that integrates staff, volunteers and health care professional students from local colleges into our community service model. CHOMP assists participating clients by providing nutritional support, light housekeeping, socialization and regular wellness checks.The goal of CHOMP is to provide the extra services our clients need to remain living independently in their communities with safe and clean environments.

Health care professional students arrange monthly wellness checks with clients to have amiable conversations and provide a general health and wellness check including a nutrition and fall risk assessment. Participating students gain experience with the growing population of older adults through an interprofessional service-learning model.

Treasured Friends delivers pet food and supplies to participating clients along with their home-delivered meal. Pets offer emotional support to our older, disabled and homebound clients, while providing opportunities for exercise and improving a client’s quality of life. Pet ownership has even been found to be a protective factor against cardiovascular disease and mortality. Providing these pet food supplies helps keep a cherished pet with their companion and out of shelters. More significantly, the Treasured Friends program reduces food sharing by clients with their pets.

Fast Track Home from the Hospital Program provides up to 20 meals free of charge to adults over the age of 18 who have recently been discharged from a rehabilitation facility, nursing home or hospital. The goal of this program is to provide necessary nutrition to aid in the healing process, while decreasing the community’s costly hospital readmission rate. This past fiscal year, the program served 5,000 meals to 310 clients, which was another record-breaking figure for participation.

Meals on Wheels of NEPA has been in existence since 1969, and to date has served over 5 million meals. Our clients rely on the support of dedicated volunteers and generous donations from the community. Programs like the Holiday Blanket Drive, CHOMP and Treasured Friends would not exist without caring individuals. Meals on Wheels of NEPA cannot thank our community enough for allowing us to continue to achieve our mission, especially during the upcoming holiday season.

Lindsey Skripka is the senior director of programming and operations for Meals on Wheels of NEPA. To learn more about the nonprofit, visit www.mealsonwheelsnepa.com.