“Senior hunger is just getting worse,” she said. “They’re very worried.”
Many older Atlantans who are now homebound due to the virus are no longer able to go out and get food, Baker said. Some might not want to attend an in-person food drive for fear of being exposed to the coronavirus. Others might typically receive support from a family member who has now lost their job due to the pandemic.
Food insecurity in metro Atlanta has risen 30 to 40% since the coronavirus pandemic began, food bank officials said. Meals On Wheels estimates that a quarter of seniors in Atlanta face the threat of hunger.
Vona Cox waits to register volunteers during a Meals On Wheels Thanksgiving meals delivery event in 2018. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
The organization plans to build a new kitchen at its facility in northwest Atlanta, which could help address the rise in need. Baker said they hope to triple their production when the new kitchen opens next year.
Since the pandemic hit, many businesses and organizations put a greater emphasis on delivery service to reduce face-to-face contact. Meals On Wheels was already accustomed to that model as a delivery-centric organization.
The virus “didn’t stop us in our tracks,” Baker said. The nonprofit shifted its procedures so its over 100 volunteers do not have to enter the Meals On Wheels facility to pick up food before delivering it. Typically, volunteers would deliver meals several days a week. Now, Baker said, they deliver five to seven nutritious meals and some breakfast snacks every Saturday.
The nonprofit recently launched a new digital campaign to raise awareness about senior hunger and encourage donations and volunteers; Meals On Wheels is mostly funded by foundations and local donations. Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, rapper Waka Flocka Flame and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms are among the people that have been featured in the #NeighborsHelpingNeighbors campaign on social media.
The organization’s waitlist only includes people who have met the requirements to receive food delivery. Recipients must be:
- 60 years and older
- Fulton County residents