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Guest Commentary: Meals on Wheels continues to serve our community

By Brian Johnson

Growing up in Minnesota during the winter months, most students can look forward to an occasional snow day.  Years ago, kids woke up listening to the radio and waiting for their school to announce those late starts and closings.  Today they most likely receive notifications on their phones, but the results are the same: sleeping in and forgetting about studies and tests for the day.  But with those cancellations come other issues adults must deal with—scrambling for day care, changing work schedules, business closures, and travel interruptions.  One of those disruptions, though, involves many vulnerable members of our community who rely on the non-profit, volunteer-run, Hot Meals on Wheels of Austin.

Since 1972, Hot Meals on Wheels has brought hot and cold lunches to people who still live in their own homes or apartments, but may need another healthy meal or two, at an affordable price, that can help keep them in those homes.  For residents who may not be able to cook for themselves, or are homebound, or just need some extra support in staying healthy and connected, these meals can be a lifesaver.  The many volunteers who keep the organization humming—drivers, kitchen crews at Mayo Hospital and Sacred Heart Care Center, or board members and weekly coordinators—are all connected to the many people served, whether it is through behind-the-scenes work or their physical presence at homes every day. Even though this past year has changed the protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic, the goals have remained the same and clients’ needs have been met.  In fact, the number of total meals served has actually grown from 18,700 in 2019 to 21,300 during this past year! 

One thing has remained the same, and that is when school is cancelled, or inclement weather prevents drivers from delivering meals safely, Hot Meals on Wheels is also cancelled.  For the second year in a row, though, the Hot Meals board decided that we can keep drivers safe AND serve our clients by offering them a package containing many shelf-stable items that can be used on snow days, holidays, or even weekends if the need arises.  Thanks to a generous donation from Hormel corporation, in January the board was able to purchase food to fill 96 bags—enough for each one of our current customers as well as some extra for future customers!  As an added bonus, the bags will also be used to place the daily meals delivered to the doors of those same people each day.

Now that remote learning has become more widely used, students may no longer have snowstorms to look forward to as a break from school. But for many in need, due to the generosity of Austin’s community stakeholders and volunteers, Hot Meals on Wheels of Austin will still be serving, even on a cold and snowy Minnesota winter day!