Nova Scotia woman worries about 2-month delay in accessing Meals on Wheels

A woman from Nova Scotia breathes a sigh of relief that her elderly parents can now get healthy meals at home, but says it shouldn’t have taken weeks to accomplish.

Brenda Thompson of Perotte, near Annapolis Royal, first tried to book VON’s Meals on Wheels program for her parents in early October. She finally reached out to a VON employee last week to arrange weekly frozen meal deliveries, two months after starting.

As the number of people relying on VON programs for meals or transportation has increased in Nova Scotia since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thompson fears the nonprofit will struggle to respond to Requirement.

“It has been quite an adventure to trace that,” said Thompson. “I feel like I’ve hunted.

Brenda Thompson says she spent two months trying to get her parents into Meals on Wheels and worries VON is overwhelmed by the current demand. (People of Kent)

Thompson’s parents moved into a self-catering residence in Bridgetown this fall.

She said it was no longer possible for her to drive half an hour each day with dinner. Their new home is set up like an apartment, so they cook their own meals.

She first left a voicemail message at the VON site in Annapolis Valley near Kentville and never heard back, Thompson said.

She then emailed the Meals on Wheels program directly, with no response. She then called other VON sites, including Halifax, who all forwarded it to someone else.

Meanwhile, Thompson said his parents had eaten “way too much salt” in the past two months at TV dinners or take out.

Their cooking capabilities are very limited, Thompson said. His father, Richard, needs a wheelchair and is terminally ill, so his mother, Juanita, is the primary caregiver and doesn’t like leaving him alone to do groceries.

Finally, on November 30, Thompson reached out to a coordinator in Kentville, who helped her organize frozen meal deliveries for her parents starting this week. They live too far from the area for the delivery of hot meals.

Thompson called this a “huge relief”.

“I just feel like Christmas has come early,” she said.

The Kentville staff member told Thompson the meal program had 30 clients before COVID-19 and now has more than 400. Such a spike matches what the Lunenburg County VON site has seen and sites across the province, according to VON.

Across the province, VON said it delivers about 10,600 meals per month. It was 2,000 per month in 2019.

Due to the pandemic, friends and family could not come and help prepare meals or offer support, often for months at a time.

To make sure this doesn’t happen to other families, Thompson would like the provincial government to better support VON and help them hire more staff or support as needed.

Hartley Frank, left, of Maplewood, Nova Scotia, greets Kathy Thomas of VON Lunenburg as she drops off her delivery of Meals on Wheels in November. The nonprofit says its meal program has increased across Nova Scotia due to the pandemic. (SRC)

In an email, VON spokesperson Emily Mallard said VON Annapolis Valley delivered about 860 meals per month in 2019-2020, up from 3,455 meals per month in 2021.

However, despite the leap, Mallard said VON was able to increase its ability to serve more customers during the pandemic thanks to its dedicated staff and volunteers.

She also said VON was “surprised” to learn that Thompson was having trouble reaching anyone.

“When we receive a request for community support services, our staff return the calls within the hour, or at the latest within the same day,” Mallard said.

“This particular case would certainly be an anomaly.”

Mallard said there are no waiting lists for frozen meals because they are available immediately. There may be a small waiting list in some areas for hot meals.

Anyone wishing to join the program in the Annapolis Valley should call 902-678-3415 ext. 2103, she said.

Mallard did not directly respond to the CBC’s question about whether more staff or funds are needed, but said VON relied “heavily” on volunteers and donors to support programs like Meals on Wheels.

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