April 7, 2020
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Volunteers start phone brigades to provide comfort—and wellness checks—in time of social distancing

A simple idea connects Meals on Wheels volunteers with clients who are spending more time alone due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Human connection in the time of COVID-19: Give a call to a neighbor or loved one who lives alone. Photo by Mike Meyers on Unsplash

Editor’s note: We need the support of our community even more during a crisis. Tell us what you and your neighbors are doing to support one another. We will share these stories of hope on The Renewal Project and in our newsletter, Renewal 365. Drop me a line at margaret@therenewalproject.com.


Like most of us, Ed Costello is sheltering in place in his home due to the COVID-19 outbreak. But as an active volunteer, he’s been thinking about ways to continue that part of his civic life. Ed and his wife Karin, who are both retired, have remained in their Los Angeles home for nearly three weeks now, but they wanted a way to keep serving their community. Ed, who is 80, told us that his first thought was how he could comfort others who can’t leave their homes, but who are alone, and so he called his local Meals on Wheels.

It was perfect timing because the nonprofit had just announced cutbacks on the number of visits volunteers make to homebound residents. To keep everyone safe, drivers are delivering the same amount of food, but in fewer trips per week, to minimize physical contact. Ed proposed he and folks like him could fill the gaps of human contact, only over the phone.

“If they’re like most older people, scared by this crisis, they’re probably trying to stay out of other people’s way,” Ed told us. “I’m trying to get something going nationally where old folks like ourselves who are reduced to the telephone and social media during this quarantine period would be willing to get out of their comfort zone and call people.”

“We’re still here for each other, to support our community and keeping the line of communication open.” — Jennifer Kappelman, Meals on Wheels West

Meals on Wheels West, Ed’s local chapter, has since set up the Phone Reassurance Project. After completing the proper training, volunteers are then connected with clients via the phone.

“It’s not just to combat loneliness and isolation. It’s also to do a light wellness check,” said Jennifer Kappelman, the organization’s volunteer coordinator. She told us that so far they’ve received a lot of interest from new volunteers. Folks are finding new ways to help out during this unprecedented time. “We’re still here for each other, to support our community and keeping the line of communication open,” she said.

Meals on Wheels chapters across the country are adapting their delivery methods due to the coronavirus outbreak but are also finding ways to maintain connections with their clients. Chapel Hill-Carrboro Meals on Wheels have adjusted their entire operation to weekly deliveries of frozen and shelf-stable meals. Because they are no longer able to do a check-in in person, they have established a volunteer phone brigade to call recipients each weekday to check in.

Be a donor or a volunteer for your local Meals on Wheels.

Margaret Myers

Margaret Myers

Margaret Myers is the editor of The Renewal Project.