New freezer trucks to improve meal delivery to region’s elderly

Mountain Empire Older Citizens has added two new freezer trucks to its vehicle fleet that will allow the agency to be more efficient in meal delivery to the region’s elderly.

Purchase of the trucks follows a year during which the agency served a record number of people through its home-delivered meals program due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (VDARS) provided funding for the specialized vehicles.

“Even before the pandemic, we were in need of a specialized truck equipped to deliver frozen meals. However, the increase in demand made the need more crucial,” said MEOC Nutrition Services Director Carrie Stallard. “The new freezer trucks will allow us to better serve older adults in need of a nutritious meal,” she added.

MEOC serves Lee, Scott and Wise counties and the City of Norton, and many clients live in remote areas.

Stallard explained that the vehicles MEOC previously used for meal delivery were aging and ill-equipped for the surge in demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Specialized blankets insulated meals during delivery. That limited the distance and time the vehicles could travel during a single delivery route, requiring frequent returns to the agency for restocking, especially during summer months.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many older adults who were already experiencing food insecurity became isolated at home. MEOC’s eight congregate meal sites, where older adults could receive a healthy meal and nutritional education in a group setting, closed because of COVID restrictions. So MEOC began providing emergency meals service to homebound seniors in addition to clients already receiving home-delivered meals. Thus, the number of people served by MEOC’s home-delivered meals program increased dramatically. In 2021, MEOC served 131,474 meals to 1,258 older individuals in its service area.

Stallard said the new trucks can carry twice the number of meals as the previous delivery vehicles, saving time and reducing fuel consumption. The four-wheel-drive vehicles will also allow easier access to remote areas and offer safer travel during inclement weather.

To learn more about MEOC’s home-delivered meals program, call (276) 523-4202.

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