North Area Meals on Wheels compiled another round of blizzard bags Nov. 30. Shown here are volunteer Rosemary Fernon and NAMOW Program Director Jennifer Covert.
While the holidays ultimately are about the spirit of giving, you have to admit part of the fun of selecting gifts is shopping for yourself. With that in mind, Subaru is once again holding its Share the Love promotion. The annual event, which began in 2008, helps car buyers donate to charity.
For every new Subaru purchased or leased between now and Jan. 2, 2019, Subaru will donate $250 to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Make-A-Wish, Meals on Wheels or the National Park Foundation. Buyers choose which charity to which they would like to donate, and the local arms of these organizations receive a share.
One of those local charity branches is North Area Meals on Wheels, located in North Syracuse. Program Director Jennifer Covert said NAMOW received $8,000 through last year’s Share the Love event.
“That’s a thousand meals that we got just for participating,” she said.
To be eligible to receive a share of the donations, local organizations must promote Share the Love on social media and host an event. NAMOW’s event, which takes place Dec. 8, is called “Stuff the Trunk with Blizzard Junk.” (See sidebar for details.)
Subarus will be lined up in NAMOW’s parking lot so donors can stuff their trunks with single-serving, shelf-stable food items, which NAMOW uses to assemble its “blizzard bags.” Each bag contains the equivalent of two meals for days on which winter weather forces NAMOW to close, preventing regular deliveries.
“Even if they don’t use it for the snow day … it’s just extra food for their pantry,” Covert said. “A lot of clients can’t get to the store to get groceries.”
This Saturday’s “Stuff the Trunk” event is far simpler to pull together than NAMOW’s large fundraisers such as the annual golf tournament and pasta dinner, Covert said.
“That takes months of planning. It takes time, it takes effort, it takes volunteers,” she said.
Local service clubs, scout troops and businesses donate goods as well as their time to NAMOW. A group of employees from Empower Federal Credit Union gathered Nov. 30 to assemble the second round of blizzard bags for NAMOW’s 250 clients.
“In this case, [people are] specifically going to come for the blizzard bags, but this way they can check out Share the Love,” Covert said of Saturday’s event.
Visit subaru.com/share to learn more about Share the Love and where to find a participating dealership.
While Covert is hoping for another windfall from Subaru’s donation initiative, there’s already a reason for NAMOW to celebrate: The waitlist has ended.
In November 2016, Onondaga County announced that it could not subsidize the meals of new clients until at least April 2017. The county continued to subsidize 60 percent of the cost for existing Meals on Wheels clients, but local Meals on Wheels agencies had to find additional private funding for those new to the program. Newcomers were added to a waitlist, but now the county is accepting new applicants.
“That’s taken a lot of stress off us and our case managers,” Covert said.
New county-funded clients are assigned a case manager, but some private-pay clients — those who do not qualify for the county subsidy — can fall off the radar after the initial sign-up, Covert said. Some clients call the office regularly, but others might not get in touch at all after they enroll.
“What if their situation changes? What if their health changes?” Covert said. “It makes a big difference to know who you’re serving. Not everybody calls.”
With the help of a fall-semester intern from SUNY Oswego, Covert compiled a list of clients who haven’t been in contact with the agency in a while. She has been visiting their homes to gauge their opinions of the food (“Trust me, I hear everything,” she said), living conditions and overall well-being. County funding, she said, is based on a whether a person is able to buy and prepare their own meals. If they are too frail or have mobility issues, they might be eligible for help from the county.
Covert began meeting with clients two months ago, and she already has referred five people to the Wellness in Nutrition (WIN) program. After her initial assessments, Covert will check in with clients every six months.
“I think it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve done since I’ve been here,” she said. “I love it because I get to meet them, and I only ever get to talk to them on the phone.”
Covert said personal interaction — whether it’s with her or a delivery driver — is key for NAMOW clients, the vast majority of whom are seniors, homebound or disabled. According to the National Institutes, social isolation can lead to depression and increase the risk of early death for seniors. The holidays can be an especially tough time, so NAMOW gives every client a wrapped gift each year.
“Some of these people don’t have families. We’re the only people they see,” Covert said. “They aren’t going to get any Christmas presents otherwise. They can always count on us for something.”
Volunteers have made quilts and blankets to give to clients, while Girl Scout troops and other groups put together holiday craft kits. People can donate toiletries, candles, puzzle books and other small gifts as well.
“December is usually a favorite time of year for our clients because they get lots of goodies,” Covert said. “We have a couple of volunteers that have a wrapping party.”
The greatest gift a person can give, Covert stressed, is one’s time and energy.
An army of volunteers 300 strong keeps NAMOW going, Covert said. “They out-power us,” she said, noting that NAMOW has 12 paid employees.
“They are the glue that holds this place together, and they always will be,” she added.
To learn how to donate or volunteer, visit namow.org or call 315-452-1402.
Ashley M. Casey is a reporter for The Baldwinsville Messenger and The Eagle Star-Review. She graduated from Le Moyne College in 2012 and previously worked for the Scotsman Press.