College students replace vulnerable Meals on Wheels drivers in New Jersey

Public Policy Manager

New Jersey college students have stepped up to fill the gaps left by Meals on Wheels volunteers who have remained at home due being at particular risk from coronavirus.

About 60 of 180 delivery volunteers in Mercer County have stepped back, with 45 locals, including 20 college students, stepping in to perform deliveries for the program. Three quarters of the program’s volunteer delivery drivers are older than 55, making them particularly vulnerable to the virus, according to The Washington Post.

“I was trying to figure out something, anything, that I could do to help,” Nate Byrnes, 21, a biology major at the College of New Jersey who has begun delivering meals for the program in his Volkswagen, told the Post, saying he grew frustrated by the pandemic hitting just before he was able to become certified as an emergency medical technician.

“All of the ambulance squads are totally overwhelmed. ERs are totally overwhelmed,” Byrnes told the newspaper. “I feel like [volunteering] is a really good way to be able to do something to help, especially when it seems like right now there aren’t that many ways we can help.”

“We’re so grateful to have students jumping in,” Sasa Olessi Montaño, chief executive of Meals on Wheels of Mercer County, told the newspaper. The program serves about 2.4 million senior citizens nationwide, with the Mercer County program serving about 300. Fifty-nine percent of recipients nationwide live alone, and the delivery volunteer is the only other person they see on most days.

The program has maintained its daily delivery schedule but made some alterations to reflect social distancing protocols, with volunteers leaving the meals in a bag at the door and wearing masks and gloves whenever possible, the Post reported. Both volunteers’ and kitchen staff’s temperatures are taken daily, according to the newspaper.

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