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'Look Out For Our Seniors': Amid COVID-19 Concerns, Wichita Meals On Wheels Continues Deliveries

Deborah Shaar
KMUW/File photo

As the novel coronavirus spreads, health experts say older Americans are most at risk of developing a serious illness.

That's left the local Meals on Wheels program to figure out how to continue to serve its senior clients while still protecting their health.

"What we are most concerned about is that we serve the vulnerable population ... and how we’re going to continue to feed them without putting them at risk," says Laurel Alkire, executive director of Senior Services of Wichita, which runs Meals on Wheels.

"We’re just trying to figure it out a day at a time."

Meals on Wheels serves about 875 clients Monday through Friday, and 30 people on the weekends, Alkire says. Recently, as a precaution against spreading the novel coronavirus, volunteers have begun limiting their contact during meal pickups and drop-offs.

"Our meals clients are already isolated, so they're not being exposed, which is a good thing, in this case," Alkire says. "However, we're talking about leaving the meal at the door [and] making sure we see them, because part of our job is making sure they're safe."

Alkire says some volunteers — many of whom are themselves seniors — have stepped back out of concerns for their own health.

In addition to the daily meals, the organization is also preparing to deliver five additional shelf-stable meals to leave with clients, bringing their total supply of emergency meals up to seven in case deliveries are affected.

Senior Services has had to close all of its community centers, which offer a variety of activities and classes for residents 55 and older.

"It’s also a place just to connect, and that’s going to be hard for our seniors who don’t have anywhere to go," Alkire says. "However, we have to keep them safe, so we don’t know if that’s going to be for a week, two weeks, a month, who knows.

"The unknown is what's so scary."

As many social gatherings are put on hold during the coronavirus outbreak, Alkire urges residents who can to check on their elderly neighbors.

“To the whole community, you know: Look out for our seniors.”

Nadya Faulx is KMUW's Digital News Editor and Reporter, which means she splits her time between working on-air and working online, managing news on KMUW.org, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. She joined KMUW in 2015 after working for a newspaper in western North Dakota. Before that she was a diversity intern at NPR in Washington, D.C.