Douglas-Cherokee: More drivers needed to bring seniors more meals


MORRISTOWN, Tenn. (WATE) — When the pandemic began in mid-March, senior centers around East Tennessee closed and remain closed today, where at many of them meals were served. As a result, organizations that prepare and serve the food came up with new ways to feed seniors.

The meals could either be picked up or delivered directly to them. Now, over the last half year, the demand among seniors is way up.

WATE 6 On Your Side’s Don Dare says the Douglas-Cherokee Economic Development Authority has a shortage of drivers to meet the growing need of delivering meals.

Both paid and volunteer drivers are needed as well as kitchen staff to help prepare meals. The Douglas-Cherokee Economic Development Authority is a community action agency serving a big part of East Tennessee. In five counties there are just a handful of drivers delivering meals to over 400 people.

Yet, so many more could be served.

Just before noon, every Monday in Talbott, Tonya Long hands out food to seniors living in Jefferson County. Tonya works for the Douglas Cherokee Economic Development Authority.

For about half an hour, older local residents pull up in the parking at Grace Point Baptist Church. At one time, seniors ate together inside the church’s fellowship hall. But the pandemic changed that. Now the meals are either picked up or delivered directly to seniors.

“Oh it’s wonderful. It’s very convenient. I think this is the best thing since sliced bread,” food recipient Margi Bishop said.

The senior meals are prepared at several sites within Douglas Cherokee’s large six-county reach in East Tennessee.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we were in Morristown six months ago, when meals were dropped off at the College Park Apartment complex for older residents.

Since then, the demand on  Douglas-Cherokee’s Meals on Wheels program has increased.

“Right now the issue is trying to find enough drivers and staff to be able to cover the amount of clients that we could be serving,” nutrition director Kate Luther said.

Presently, 427 people have meals delivered by six drivers in five counties — that’s an increase of 75 seniors in less than a year. However, even more could be fed.  

“But we still have about 140 people  on the waiting list that we’d love to get fed,” Luther said. “If we had more drivers and kitchen staff, we would love to be able to add them on to the program.”

“Yes, she needs more volunteer drivers. The ones she has are being worked to death,” Lee Fee Miller said.

Volunteer and paid drivers are need to the fill the demand of serving seniors. Lee Fee Miller says it’s like a calling.

“In driving you are also that contact with the rest of the world. Lots of time a driver will notice that someone is ill and needs medical attention, or something else is going on, and they report it,” Miller said.

Presently only cold and frozen meals are delivered.

“In this bag we have cold meals we hand out to them. We come once a week. So in this bag we have the cold meals. Over here we have milk and fruit bagged up with the ice packs,” Tonya Long said.

With more people working in the kitchen. hot meals instead of cold meals could be served. And with more volunteer and paid drivers, those on the waiting list could have meals brought to them.

One of the many missions of the Douglas-Cherokee Economic Development Authority, providing nutritious meals for eligible adults over 60 is one of them.

Right now, Douglas-Cherokee has some job openings, for kitchen workers and drivers, to help fulfill their mission because of the demand brought on by the pandemic.

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