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Dispatching Meals on Wheels in Ontario

Posted May 24 2009 12:00am

Perth's Carolina Suites

Joe, my husband, delivers Meals on Wheels in Lanark County. He explains how it is done. It is labour intensive, with meals prepared on-site at a local retirement home. Volunteers serve it into dishes, and deliver it to clients.

The food is prepared by cooks in the kitchens of Carolina Suites. The staff are very helpful, as our volunteers dash about preparing the 40 or so meals.

The practices of delivering a hot meals is a great one. It is the delivery person's responsibility to greet the client. Most check in on them, and assure themselves that the client is well. Some receive meals since they cannot cook. Some because having a hot meals reassures loved ones that a meal is a great way to look after an aging parent.

There are strict protocols about where meals can be prepared. When we lived in Bala, meals were prepared in a professionals chef's kitchen. When the chef moved away, the local restaurant prepared the meals, packaged them and volunteers delivered them.  Protocols exist, too, for food handling, 
hand washing, and taking the temperatures of foods, if foods are prepared in volunteer kitchens. 

Most people who deliver tend to be men in this locale. There are many opportunities for serving, and this is just one. This is my husband's routine!



Joe in the serving area
I am doing meals on wheels, which I thought might interest you, in how we do it here.

I am a delivery guy up to two days a week with 9 to 12 stops.
As well, I am a dispatcher for 1 to 2 days week.
Basically, I fill in for folks on holidays or illness (usually for a month or longer).
To be a meals and wheels volunteer, you need police clearance , this took 2 months.I started in January.
Social services in Perth have a full time Meals on Wheels coordinator who deals with clients and gives the dispatchers the daily lists.
The meals are prepared in a local seniors lodge in which we have a dispatch room.
We deliver between 30 and 40 meals a day, 5 days a week to about 50 clients.
As a dispatcher, I get the list of clients and routes the day before by e-mail. From this I make up a master list of diabetic, non diabetic, and food preferences, by route. I then make up labels (others write on lids) to identify special meals (e.g., no chicken).
The next day, I arrive at the seniors lodge around 09:00.Containers, lids, date stamps
I begin by getting out the lids for the hot meals (30 to 40) and writing on route numbers, stamping a "please use or place in fridge" stamp, and stamp on the date.After this I put on the labels for special meals.
Then I take out the number of hot meal foil containers to be used.After that I take out the number of Styrofoam containers and lids for soups and desserts., marking lids for diabetic desserts with a "D". 
At this point, I go to the kitchen down the hall, and get a serving cart with the diabetic and regulars desserts. They are in containers or cartons.I then place the desserts in the Styrofoam containers and put the appropriate number on a table by route (1 to 5 routes).I then return the unused desserts to the kitchen.
On one of the kitchen trips, I find out what the soup, and meals will be.Then, I discuss with the cook how many different meals we will need based on exclusions, e.g., no chicken, so can we have a fish, or sausage ?Corn soup? Then I cancel a soup and add a juice.
I also go to the "walk in" fridges and get juice for clients who don't like soup.
Cheery visitor, Joe delivers a meal

This is finished by 10:15 to 10:30 or so, and some of the drivers arrive. The drivers, confirm the number and types of desserts, confirm with me any changes to their routes.
At about 10:30, I go back to the kitchen and get the soup.With the help of the drivers, I ladle it into containers and the drivers place them in their insulated bags.
At about 11:00 a kitchen staff person, brings in the hot meals in serving trays. We have a protein (meat, fish), two vegetables, and a potato or rice.We try to have an alternative for clients who don't like a particular food, eg., pork.We have a serving area, and fill each container from the holding dishes.
The late Carl, receiving Joe's delivery
I keep the lids in front of me, and ensure that the right meal goes to the right client (about 35% have special requests) by telling my volunteers  what goes in each foil dish. Not as hard as it seems, as often only 10 or 12 need to be different, on any given day. We also attempt to have different meals for clients getting two meals per day, e.g., spouses in the same home.
With the drivers helping , we usually are loaded and out the door by 11:15. Routes take about 40 mins to an hour depending on the numbers and the number of clients out of town. Usually, I am home around 1:00, having stopped afterwards for a refreshing coffee.
The dispatchers keep a log of each day's servings which helps the kitchen plan for the next day. Dispatchers also keep the cupboards stored with containers and lids from the shipping boxes in our food preparation room. Lastly, we take a sample  temperature of food at dispatch and at final delivery.
As you can see , the dispatch with travel time is a three hour commitment. Sometimes I both dispatch and drive.
Jack Hutton, Bala, ON.,
Meals Coordinator
It was a bit to learn, but like all volunteer groups we are short handed. I started dispatching about 3 weeks into January, as my dispatcher went in for a hip replacement (84 years, he is the oldest volunteer).Then another went to on holidays for a month, so I had both Tuesday and Wednesday to dispatch. 
Not very many want to dispatch so we are usually more pressed there than for drivers.
This month, I drive on Monday and Tuesday, and dispatch on Wednesday.
This Friday, I will pop in see how Fridays are done with clients being given extra frozen meals for the weekend.
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