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An Interview with Stephanie Archer-Smith

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Executive Director

Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, Inc. | Baltimore, MD

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1. What are the goods/services offered by your primary business?

By providing nutritious meals to people who are homebound and unable to shop or cook for themselves—because of age, disability, or illness—Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland enhances health and safety, promotes independent living and protects quality of life for people who choose to age in place in their home and community.

For seniors throughout Central Maryland, we do more than deliver nutritious meals. We provide support and safety-net services that help sustain health, promote independence, maintain economic stability, and improve overall quality of life. In addition to home delivered meals, we offer grocery shopping assistance, case management, health/wellness check-ins, pet food delivery, and Phone Pals and Friendly Volunteer Companions.

2. What did you launch in response to the COVD-19 pandemic?

COVID-19 has caused a huge surge in need for food, especially for older adults. As a part of Maryland’s Community Feeding Team, we stepped up to increase home-delivered meal capacity.

  • From March 17th-May 29th: over 600,000 meals have been produced, packed, and delivered. This is triple our normal meal production.
  • We have on-boarded a record number of new volunteers to assist in reaching these heightened goals.

Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland programs have always included some social interaction, whether that be through a simple greeting when volunteers drop off meals, or perhaps through a conversation in our Friendly Visitors program. Because volunteers are not able to meet with their clients currently due to health restrictions and weekly instead of daily deliveries, the Client Wellness Call (CWC) program was developed. Each week, a volunteer will call a client twice as a way to both check-in and provide a space to chat. It allows for connection to our clients who may be experiencing heightened social isolation as well as our volunteers, particularly those who are unable to deliver in person (for the time being) due to COVID-19.

3. What steps did you take to develop and promote your new initiative?

Our grassroots structure, built-in efficiencies, and responsive nature gave us the ability to develop and implement the new practices. When we realized the dramatic increase in demand for access to food, we quickly and efficiently switched to a frozen meal production model and a contactless meal delivery by our drivers and volunteers. We also moved our in-person volunteer orientations to an all-online webinar sessions.

The new processes and initiatives were communicated through our dedicated COVID-19 impact webpage, our social media channels, via email and letters to our clients, staff, and volunteers. The leadership team continues to hold weekly pandemic response meetings to discuss updates and review processes to ensure we're doing all we can to continue to safely serve.

4. What or who inspired you to undertake this effort?

Our inspiration is, and always has been, grounded in our mission of enabling people to live independently at home through the provision of nutritious meals, personal contact and related services. We are also inspired by the idea that a leader does not always strive to be first, but is the first to strive. We knew how critical the situation was and knew we had to act immediately because things were changing so quickly.

5. What results have you seen so far from this initiative?

Results have come in so many forms. We have been able to feed more people than we ever have before in our 60 year history. The outpouring of support from the community through volunteering and donations has been an incredible result.

6. How do you define success for your project?

Our interrupted ability to continue to serve seniors and the homebound community throughout Maryland.

7. What are the biggest challenges for you to meet your goal?

Being a part of Maryland's emergency response feeding team brought about several changes to the way we deliver. With those changes have come unexpected expenses such as packing and delivery materials, freezer storage and printing costs. Incurring those with our ongoing expanded emergency service during the pandemic brought some challenges, but worth every cent to make sure those without access to food receive what they need.

8. How long do you anticipate continuing this effort?

While things are opening up a bit here in Maryland, our mission to support seniors and aging adults in their homes will never cease. The need for access to food is great, so as long as a need exists, we will continue our efforts.

9. What have you learned by undertaking this project?

We have learned so much at Meals on Wheels about what we can do, what we are capable of, and new ways to serve people.

10. How can others learn more about your COVID-19 response efforts?

Our full COVID-19 impact response can be found at www.mealsonwheelsmd.org/our-covid-19-impact/

You can also follow us on social media @mealsonwheelsmd for the latest updates, photos, and videos of what it takes to serve.