No rest for meals on wheels programs this winter

Barbaraellen Koch file photo | Riverhed Senior Center kitchen worker Melissa Muller bags sandwiches before Hurricane Irene.
Barbaraellen Koch file photo | Riverhed Senior Center kitchen worker Melissa Muller bags sandwiches before Hurricane Irene.

Just because it’s a snow day, doesn’t mean it’s a day off for workers and volunteers at local senior citizen centers.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

This winter’s huge snowfall so far — January’s 25 inches of snow were nearly four times the month’s average — has had centers working double-time, preparing meals and ensuring that the seniors they care for remain safe during, and after, the snow hits.

Today, for instance, drivers who normally deliver hundreds of meals on wheels to North Fork residents turned in their truck keys, instead hitting the phones to check-up on residents in the area.

“We’re ready to go at all times,” said Karen McLaughlin, director of Senior Services for Southold Town. “We call each senior to make sure they are OK, that they have power. If we don’t get an answer, we have someone check on them.“

But preparing for the storm didn’t start today. Both Ms. McLaughlin and Judy Doll, director of Senior Citizen Programs in Riverhead, said the staff at their senior centers was busy yesterday preparing the day’s regular meals, which amount to just over 100 for each town. In addition, they froze just as many meals and offered them to seniors yesterday, to make sure they had something to eat today in case drivers couldn’t get out.

But even two meals wasn’t enough, they figured.

“Yesterday we sent out three meals: a hot, a frozen, and an emergency meal that is non-perishable,” Ms. Doll said.

The county’s Office for the Aging provides centers with emergency meals to deliver just in case workers can’t get in to prepare.

“Our staff will be in tomorrow preparing extra meals to send out on Friday, just in case it gets bad,” Ms. McLaughlin said, already looking forward to the next storm.

“Part of our drill is we prepare for meals for a month, and we err on the side of caution,” she said, adding that the centers also have to deliver meals to seniors who normally eat lunch at the center — almost doubling their meals on wheels route.

Ms. Doll said this season has “probably been the worst in years,” but recalled having to come in with kitchen staff on weekends in the past, to prepare for big storms brewing that would otherwise leave area residents hungry.

Luckily that hasn’t had to happen this season — just yet.

When asked how it feels to be working double-duty while most others are enjoying their days on the couch, Ms. McLaughlin replied, “we don’t mind. We love what we do.”

*There will be no hot Meals on Wheels delivered in Southampton, Riverhead or Southold towns today due to icy road conditions

Southampton Senior Center- (631) 728-1235
Riverhead Senior Center- (631) 722-4444
Southold Senior Center – (631) 298-4460