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Meal requests are up 300%. The number of people volunteeering to deliver them averaging 300 per day

PMG PHOTO: BILL GALLAGHER - Jeff Shields, a retired pharmacist, is one of 450 volunteer drivers for Meals On Wheels People. Here he picks up meals for delivery at the main facility in Multnomah Village on November 20,2018.The numbers seen these days at Meals on Wheels People in Multnomah Village are not unexpected But they are unprecedented.

In a "normal" month, there will be 300 requests from homebound elderly people for meal deliveries. There are currently 150 requests for meal deliveries per day.

"So many people who would never consider calling Meals on Wheels are now calling," said spokesperson Julie Piper Finley.

There are about 450 regular volunteer drivers. That number will go much higher. New numbers indicate that a lot of people who would never volunteer to deliver those meals are now doing so. Since Friday, March 20, 900 people logged on to MOWP.org to offer their services delivering meals.

Piper Finley says there's an issue with putting these people right to work.

"If you call today, you won't be delivering meals tomorrow. The big issue is getting criminal background checks done on everyone who volunteers," she said. "That will take a few days."

MOWP is trying to expedite those criminal background checks, which are done through the State of Oregon.

A number of school teachers are volunteering who have been through the background check process but will need to get a new one done. Piper Finley said they are also seeing a lot of restaurant workers call to volunteer.

As soon as a volunteer delivery driver is cleared, they will be put to work. Most of the current drivers — 65% — are older than 70.

Suzanne Washington, CEO of MOWP told OPB on Thursday, March19, "We lost some volunteers who were worried about their clients as much as themselves. It's amazing that most volunteers are still delivering."

To meet the demand for delivered meals, a second shift has been added at the MOWP central Kitchen in Multnomah Village. In normal times, clients receive a meal five days a week. Volunteers now deliver five meals three days a week.

"We can make enough meals we just don't have the storage. We usually make a meal a day for five days but now multiple meals at a time are produced and they have to be refrigerated," Finley Piper said. Local restaurants have been contacted about sharing refrigerator space.

There is an acute need for donations since MOWP receives funding for only 1.5 million meals per year. To volunteer or donate go to MOWP.org .

Like government agencies, MOWP has prepared for the unforeseen. But this is different.

"We're prepared for tsunami, earthquake, even biological warfare. But never, ever considered a pandemic in which people couldn't contact each other. That's our biggest issue," Piper Finley said.

CEO Washington told OPB there are now procedures in place for non-contact deliveries: Hang the meal on the door or place it on the porch. Wipe down the doorbell. Stay on the other side of a screen door.

"Our number one challenge," she said, "is making sure staff and volunteers observe safety protocols. NO HUGS."

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