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Senior meal service sees uptick

FAIRMONT — While a shelter-in-place order is no longer in effect for Minnesota, many people are choosing to stay home out of caution. Since older adults are more susceptible to the coronavirus, many may find themselves going out less to socialize, shop or pick up food.

Many senior meal delivery services have seen an increase in demand during this time.

Karen Toupal is a face behind Fairmont’s meal delivery service Hot Meals on Wheels. The program is different from the well-known federal program, Meals on Wheels, which requires a lot of paperwork, according to Toupal. Hot Meals on Wheels has recipients self-pay and allows those who need financial help to receive aid through the county.

Toupal said that when the pandemic first began affecting things a few months ago, she actually saw a dip in the number of people the program services. Some chose to move to another setting, including assisted living or in with family.

“Where it became a challenge for us is we operate with volunteers and we have probably at least 18 groups that volunteer to deliver meals at set times every year,” she said. “And the challenge for us is a lot of these groups are made up of older people, the people who were supposed to stay home.”

Toupal said some volunteer groups could not deliver meals during this time. A lot of the volunteers are involved through churches, but since churches are not gathering, getting the word out and signup have been challenges.

“Then what happened was the state of Minnesota got ahold of me. Ridership was down on Prairie Lakes Transit and SHIP dollars would be used where they could deliver meals,” Toupal explained.

Prairie Lakes Transit is delivering two of four routes for Hot Meals on Wheels.

“When we first discussed it, they said it could work if we needed them through December. So that helped us immensely,” Toupal noted.

Meals are delivered Monday through Saturday. About 80 percent of recipients get a meal every day. Some get them Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

People cannot call and say they want a meal tomorrow because the routes are worked out a week ahead of time. The program delivers to 28 people in Fairmont, with several more spots open.

People can choose to sign up and receive meals for just a few weeks if they are sick, injured or had surgery and cannot cook for themselves.

Meals are made at Lakeview Methodist Health Care Center.

The meals are delivered between 11 a.m. and noon daily. The cost is $6 per meal. For 50 cents more, participants can get a larger portion, which some people divide for lunch and supper.

As for safety precautions for volunteers delivering meals, as well as for recipients, Toupal said she contacted all the people who receive meals and suggested they designate a place where volunteers could drop off meals, such as on a chair outside the door.

Every night, Lakeview washes the coolers that are used for delivery. Those packing the food wear gloves. Volunteers who deliver the meals have hand sanitizer available and wear masks, if they wish.

“Most of the clients we’re not actually seeing now, but some want to see a friendly face and that’s their choice,” Toupal said.

Anyone who wishes to get on a route to receive meals from Hot Meals on Wheels may contact Toupal at (507) 236-8781.

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