Meals on Wheels rolled out early delivery in case of travel trouble during storm

Those whose job is feeding the needy and homebound during a snowstorm can't cancel services, take a personal day or go to work a couple of hours late. It still needs to be done, even if that requires tinkering.

Timothy Grills, director of nutrition services at Thames Valley Council for Community Action, which runs the region's Meals on Wheels program, said it's all about planning.

Grills said workers called the more than 700 seniors they serve in New London, Windham and Tolland counties on Saturday to let them know that day they would be delivering Monday's and Tuesday's meals because snow was predicted for Monday.

"They are very grateful. For some of the seniors, it's the only food they are going to receive. In some cases, it's the only interaction they'll have," he said about the clients who are typically 60 or older and homebound.

Meals on Wheels operates from a facility in Bozrah. On Saturday, drivers delivered frozen and refrigerated meals, not the typical warm meals, to hold over the seniors until the drivers are able to safely get back on the road.

Grills also said that in October the seniors got three emergency meals, which are shelf-stable foods like canned beef stew, applesauce and dry milk, and are told to hold on to them just in case a driver can't get out to them.

Drivers also delivered extra meals on the Sunday before the Jan. 26 blizzard.

"We can't put people out on the roads if it's not safe, but we do everything we can to make sure our seniors are fed," said Grills.

Federal, state and donation dollars fund the program, which has 63 employees and 350 volunteers. Depending on the circumstances, seniors are served lunch and/or dinner either five or seven days a week.

But there are times when Mother Nature wins. The mobile food pantry of the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut does not run during a storm, and the blizzard forced the cancellation of food distribution at the Thames River Apartments in New London on Jan. 28.

"We make sure they're aware of the other distribution sites and times where they can visit the pantry," said Jill Davoll, marketing and communications director of the United Way.

Davoll said the mobile pantry serves an average of 1,000 households each month at its distribution sites.

John Kamishlian, board president of New London Community Meal Center, said the travel ban and parking ban imposed in response to the recent blizzard forced the center to close for the first time in the 13 years he has been with the organization. He said if it weren't for the travel ban, the meal center would have been open.

Kamishlian said when Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012 the center remained open even when there was no electricity. He said committed workers like kitchen manager Patricia Madry served meals that did not require heating.

The center serves lunch and dinner year-round. During the winter it normally gets about 140 people at each meal.

"Most of the clients we have live in shelters so they depend on us," said Kamishlian. "It's difficult when we can't help those that need it the most, but we couldn't get our volunteers in" during the blizzard.

i.larraneta@theday.com

Twitter: @larraneta

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