Cabarrus Meals on Wheels Overcomes Challenges to Deliver Through the Pandemic
CONCORD, NC, March 2021 – When the COVID-19 pandemic first started to impact our community back in March of 2020, there was a lot of focus on which businesses and services were considered “essential” and needed to continue to operate. That is when Cabarrus Meals on Wheels (CMOW) Executive Director Kimberly Strong knew, without a doubt, that their service was critical, and she immediately went to work to figure out how to keep delivering nutritious meals to seniors and individuals with disabilities.
As news came out that seniors were at a high risk for contracting the virus, she knew that she and her team would have to find a way to continue their weekly deliveries, but what transpired over the next several weeks and months was both challenging and inspiring.
CMOW Never Missed a Single Day of Delivery
“We are one of only a few homebound senior meal delivery programs in North Carolina that never missed a single day of getting a hot meal to our clients,” said Strong. “Other programs around the state chose to shift to a once-per-week delivery of primarily frozen meals to their clients.”
So how did Cabarrus County do it? According to Strong, with tremendous support and collaboration from local agencies and volunteers. The entire CMOW staff worked closely with the Cabarrus Health Alliance to identify and implement any of the guidelines needed to be able to safely continue delivering their healthy, hot meals to their homebound clients.
“During such challenges times, our community needed social service organizations like Meals on Wheels to survive,” said Erin Shoe, Cabarrus Health Alliance Deputy Health Director. “It was important for us in the pandemic to work with organizations to ensure they had proper protocols in place, ensuring they were safe and able to meet the needs of our community. Food insecurity would only worsen if we didn’t align with partners early on.”
Volunteer Shortage Became a Surplus
Another issue that presented itself early on was having enough volunteers to cover the 30 delivery routes. “We no longer had people to deliver since so many of our volunteers were retirees who fell into that high-risk category for COVID-19,” said Strong.
In fact, if a volunteer was over age of 65, CMOW actually asked them to consider not delivering for their own safety. Strong outlined a plan that would have her entire staff cover all of their delivery routes because they were assuming that they would have no volunteers.
But then something amazing happened…the phone started ringing. Furloughed workers ended up reaching out and filling in the gaps for the first four months. They heard from teachers and students…people who felt helpless during such an uncertain time and wanted to help out. Suddenly Strong not only had every route covered, but they actually had more volunteers than they could handle.
“This community never ceases to amaze me,” said Strong. “They always come through for our seniors.”
Additional procedures had to be put in place including putting meals in plastic bags and leaving them on the door handle instead of directly handing the meal to the client. But most of the volunteers would still stand safely in the front yard or driveway to still give the homebound senior a warm hello. Because the hot meal is only half of the true mission of Meals on Wheels. The other is that connection to another person at least once a day to seniors who often don’t see anyone else.
Strong said, “It is vital to touch base to ensure their safety…to let them know someone cares. Even though our volunteers have to deliver from a distance, it is still a touch from us 5 days a week.”
How COVID-19 Has Affected CMOW Clients
CMOW frequently surveys their clients to make sure their needs are being met. This year, they specifically asked how COVID-19 has affected them. Some of their responses include:
- “It is good to go out on my porch to say hi and know there will be a surprise in my cooler.”
- “Being lonely and staying indoors…it makes me happy to know someone cares about me and checks on me. Meals on Wheels has helped so much not only by eating regular and getting good food, but knowing they care if people are doing well!”
When asked about the volunteers, one CMOW client said, “The volunteers must be angels.”
Securing Funding During a Pandemic
Strong is also the president of Meal on Wheels NC, so she has seen firsthand how this pandemic has affected organizations across our state. “We immediately went to work securing grants to help Meals on Wheels organizations have access to additional funds to keep operating. We have secured 1.5 million so far in grant money.”
Here locally, Strong was also in the middle of a capital campaign to move their operations to a larger facility that they would also own. According to Strong, “the 16th of March was actually the day we had gone out to bid on our building. Our numbers skyrocketed and the purpose of the expansion was to serve more people. We went from 375 to 500 clients in just a few months.”
Even though CMOW was facing a pandemic, they knew that they had to move forward with the expansion. “I had a lot of faith that this community would step up,” said Strong.
Expanding to Meet the Growing Need
When Strong became Executive Director 14 years ago, they were doing 150-200 meals a day, but she has had this vision, of owning their own space and cooking their own meals, from the beginning. In fact, when she first started in 2007, the meals were actually prepared at the hospital. In 2009, they moved into their own space, a former restaurant, so they could begin preparing meals themselves, but quickly outgrew that space with the increasing need for their service.
The expansion has included a $3 million capital campaign and even during a pandemic, funding has been exceptional. “We have about $700,000 to go for the expansion and we still need funds to operate as well,” said Strong. “However, we are paying less for a mortgage on a space that is three times the size of our previous location. We also have some rental space in our new building that provides additional income.”
CMOW’s new location at 342 Penny Lane in Concord would not have been possible without the help of Ginger Moore of Carlos Moore Architects who helped with the design and construction of the building. Major donors to the capital campaign so far include: Cannon Foundation, William C. and Norma C. Cannon Charitable Trust, Merancas Foundation, The Leon Levine Foundation, F&M Bank, In memory of Harry William Stanhope, Mary Wittman, John Vallomy, Splashpaw Foundation, Carlos Moore Architects and Uwharrie Bank.
If you are interested in supporting the Cabarrus Meals on Wheel capital campaign or serving as a volunteer, visit call 704-932-3412.
The Cabarrus Meals on Wheels staff. October 5, 2020 - Opening day of new kitchen.
The new kitchen equipment getting ready to go.
Packaging our first meals produced in the new kithcen.
New indoor location for pickup keeps everyone dry.
Pet food storage area sponsored by the Splashpaw Foundation.
New reception area for volunteers.
nteers safely loading up meals for a delivery.