NEWARK — When Home Meal Service lost its meals-on-wheels contract last fall to The Arc Wayne, officials from both agencies expressed hope they could forge a partnership that would benefit both organizations and most importantly, Wayne County’s home-bound seniors.
Kathy Schneemann, volunteer coordinator for Home Meal Service, said there was no guarantee that was going to happen, and the agency braced for the worst.
“When we lost the bid, we were shut down in our heads,” she said.
For many years, The Arc Wayne prepared a portion of the meals Home Meal Service delivered around the county to seniors and others in need.
Now armed with the county home-meal delivery contract following competitive bidding, The Arc Wayne turned to the agency that knew a little something about meals on wheels: Home Meal Service, which had been providing the service for more than four decades.
The program didn’t skip a beat in January when The Arc Wayne took over the program, said Gwendolyn Murawski, director of Home Meal Service.
“(The volunteers) still deliver the meals and we handle administration of the program,” said Murawski, who took over as the agency’s director after the departure of Karen Breen.
Most of Home Meal Service’s longtime volunteers — who fan out into the county each week to deliver hot meals to seniors — stayed, said Volunteer Coordinator Kathy Schneemann.
“The majority of our volunteers are very loyal to the program and to their clients,” she said.
Schneemann said The Arc Wayne “realized that they needed what we do and have been doing for 46 years. The program works.”
Added Murawski: “I think their plan all along was to have us deliver the meals.”
David Calhoun, director of The Arc Wayne, could not be reached for comment, but said last fall after winning the contract that “it is our hope and has always been, to work collaboratively with the Home Meal program to provide the best possible services to individuals in the county.”
While Home Meal Service is happy to have survived the loss of the county contract, the agency has taken a significant financial hit. Its income has dropped significantly under its contract with The Arc, said Murawski, adding that the not-for-profit accepts donations, she emphasized.
The agency also lost its free space at the Wayne County Nursing Home, whose kitchen staff also prepared meals for Home Meal Service.
It’s now leasing space in a large retail/office building at 165 E. Union St. in Newark, where they moved over the Labor Day weekend.
Demand for meals is growing, said Schneemann.
“We’re breaking records,” she said.
In August, she said, the agency delivered 5,217 meals, which is about 1,000 more than it was two years ago. Schneemann attributes the increase to an aging population.
The increasing demand for meals-on-wheels services means the program needs more volunteers.
“Please consider volunteering,” said Schneemann. “I have the most amazing people in this program.”
The people who do volunteer feel a special calling, she observed.
“They (the volunteers) want some sort of human interaction, and they get it,” she said. “I have volunteers who are committed for life.”
Some volunteers deliver once a month; others far more often.
“It’s always the volunteer’s choice,” said Schneemann, noting it takes about two hours for a typical meal-delivery route.
But volunteers do more than just deliver a meal, Murawski emphasized. Sometimes they are the only social interaction recipients get in a given week.
“It’s (also) a wellness check every single day, and that’s more important than the meals,” said Schneemann.
Volunteers often do errands, and some provide repairs around the house at times outside of the meal deliveries, said Murawski and Schneemann.
Murawski said agency members were disappointed to lose the contract, but that they are grateful to continue to provide such a valuable service.
“You have to play the hand you’re dealt,” she said.
Last year, Home Meal Service was forced to bid for the first time as part of a revamped county purchasing policy — recommended by the state — that requires most contracts over $20,000 be subject to competitive bid.
Newark-based Wayne Arc bid $183,240, while Home Meal Service bid $260,840.