Every weekday around 10:30 a.m., Phyllis and Shirley Stribling of Livermore get a knock on their front door.
Until mid-March, the knock meant a volunteer from Meals on Wheels was at the door ready to hand off two prepared meals for the day.
Now, volunteers first set the meals down on a table between the Striblings home and the sidewalk, knock and announce the delivery, and then back away from the door for a brief chat from a safe distance across the driveway.
Meals on Wheels programs, like most essential services, are still operating under the state and Alameda County’s shelter place orders, which aim to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“I can't imagine being without it now,” Phyllis Stribling, 91, said of the service. “It’s also something to look forward to.”
Like so many of the nation’s estimated 52 million adults ages 65 and older, the Striblings are following the guidance of health experts and staying at home and away from other people.
Because older people and those with underlying health conditions are more susceptible to serious injury or death from the new coronavirus, the most important way to stay safe is to stay at home.
Phyllis said she considers herself fortunate and credits the community-based Meals on Wheels program, grocery deliveries from family and the ability to have prescription refills sent in the mail — allowing her and her 89-year-old husband to safely self-isolate.
Since Gov. Gavin Newsom called for home isolation of all seniors in the state on March 15, Phyllis said she has only had to make a single trip to the store for basic necessities.
“It means a lot that we don’t have to get out that much,” she said.
During the stay-at-home order, more older residents, who have effectively become homebound, are turning to services like Meals on Wheels for help.
Spectrum Meals on Wheels, which delivers more than 40,000 meals annually to residents in Livermore, Pleasanton, Sunol and Dublin, has added about 60 new clients since the pandemic was declared, pushing the number of people it serves above 200.
At the same time, the nonprofit was forced to turn away much of its volunteer base, which includes a significant percentage of retired seniors, from volunteer work outside the home.
Spectrum Community Services Inc. runs the Tri-Valley Meals on Wheels program. Before the lockdown, roughly half of its delivery volunteers were 65 or older and at a higher risk of developing complications from COVID-19, said Carrie Oldes, Tri-Valley supervisor for Spectrum Meals on Wheels.
Oldes said removing ready, willing and able senior volunteers from delivery assignments was difficult and came with push-back. But it was necessary to keep volunteers safe. Some of those who fought to stay on are now making friendly phone calls to check in with seniors from their regular routes.
In the meantime, Oldes said there has been an outpouring of support from younger volunteers, who are suddenly out of work and looking for ways to help.
“There’s no clear answer to when we’re done, when volunteers will come back and when people will go back to work,” Oldes said.
Because social isolation can be difficult even in the best of times, Oldes said the Tri-Valley Meals on Wheels program now includes handmade cards and notes along with meals at least once a week in an effort to help those forced into deep isolation feel more connected. As a precaution, the cards are held for at least 72 hours before being sent out.