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Bad weather hampering meal delivery service of area programs

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When Mother Nature serves bad weather, many homebound north country residents may go without a fresh, hot lunch.

Senior citizen nutrition programs and Meals on Wheels agencies throughout the area have dozens of volunteers who drive through whiteout conditions and walk through piles of slush and slippery sidewalks, but on occasion are not able to deliver meals to some seniors or the homebound. Representatives from those various agencies throughout the three counties said this winter has been one of the toughest in years, requiring them periodically to shut down deliveries.

“With the ice we had, we had numerous falls from staff and volunteers,” said Diana J. McCormick, meal program manager with the St. Lawrence County Home Delivered Meals Program. “With the ice storm and snowstorms, it’s been crazy. We’ve been hit hard in Edwards and Star Lake.”

One day in Edwards, she said, delivery vehicles were iced over so much that they had to be towed out of the parking lot and dropped off at a garage to be deiced.

The agency also serves the communities of Brasher, Canton, DeKalb, Hermon, Russell, Gouverneur, Fowler, Hailesboro, Morristown, Hammond, Potsdam, Norwood, Norfolk, Madrid, Waddington, Colton and South Colton.

Ms. McCormick said staff members call her about 8 each morning to give her weather reports, and after following up with road patrols and assessing the conditions, she decides if and when deliveries will be canceled for the day. She said she didn’t have a count of the number of days she’s had to cancel so far this winter, but all 375 people who receive meals daily will get a call from program staff to see if they have other food in their home.

Aside from meal delivery, the eight congregate meal sites throughout St. Lawrence County also have been shut down because of bad weather, as there are only five kitchens throughout the county. If meals are prepared in Morristown, but weather is too bad, they won’t be delivered to Ogdensburg, she said.

Situations like that are why the St. Lawrence County Home Delivered Meals Program delivers frozen meals with reheating instructions to program recipients in November, so they have a backup meal. The Massena Meals on Wheels program employs the same concept, according to Executive Director Jessica J. Fregoe.

“Once they use that meal, we replenish it,” she said.

Massena Meals on Wheels shut down delivery only one day this winter, during the first big snowstorm in early December, Mrs. Fregoe said. Meal preparation begins at 7 a.m. daily, but she said she’s usually up by 5 a.m. to check the weather continuously. The program serves about 101 people daily throughout Massena, Louisville and Norfolk.

Protecting staff and volunteers from being out in subzero temperatures and from walking on glare ice are some of the main reasons meal deliveries may be shut down, organizers said.

For the Meals on Wheels program that covers the city of Watertown and surrounding areas in a 5-mile radius, this winter has proven to be the worst in many years.

“In a normal winter you get pockets with a day or two of a snowstorm,” said Donna L. White, program director. “This year, it seems like every day is an issue. We canceled on Jan. 7 — everything that day came to a standstill.”

That day was the first time in about 15 years that the whole program shut down, she said. Canceling a day’s meal delivery to an average of about 75 people had never been an issue, she said, but the core group of older volunteers is being more cautious about going out in bad weather. To help ease volunteers’ and recipients’ worries, Ms. White said, the board of directors will consider preparing emergency meals.

To help ease the burden in Lewis County, when the Office for the Aging’s contract caterer prepares a hot meal for Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, frozen meals are also delivered Mondays and Wednesdays for people to eat on Tuesdays and Fridays, according to Brenda J. Bourgeois, agency director.

That planning method came in handy, she said, when the six meals sites of the agency’s nutrition program were closed one day in December and up to four days in January because of inclement weather. A total of 1,405 meals were served at meal sites at Copenhagen, Croghan, Harrisville, Lowville, Lyons Falls and Osceola, and an additional 2,377 were delivered to senior citizens and the homebound throughout Lewis County.

While this winter may surprise some local residents with the many temporary road closures, accidents and various cancellations and closings, Ms. Bourgeois said it’s all just a reminder of how north country winters used to be.

“These are our old, normal winter” storms, she said. “It’s been challenging for everyone.”

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