Meals on Wheels eyes return to in-person dining in northern Clark County

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By Rick Bannan / rick@thereflector.com

The Clark County Meal Delivery Organization for Seniors will bring its in-person offerings back to the area, aiming for a northern Clark County option after the COVID-19 pandemic halted operations at the Battle Ground Community Center.

Prior to the pandemic, Meals on Wheels People (MOWP) served weekday meals from the community center at 912 E. Main St. in Battle Ground. The organization has rented dining space, the kitchen and offices at the community center, said Meals on Wheels People CEO Suzanne Washington. Along with mass catering, the space served as a hub for home deliveries in northern Clark County.

Between 35 and 40 people took part in the communal dinner each day, Washington said. In March 2020, the MOWP discontinued its in-person offerings.

“When the pandemic hit, it changed everything,” Washington said.

Home delivery has increased dramatically during the pandemic about two-thirds, she said. In April, approximately 2,000 meals were delivered to the North County region.

Although the MOWP continued to operate at the community center for meal delivery, Washington said they eventually left the center after volunteers were harassed for meeting masking requirements. While she cannot say if there was a specific group involved in the harassment, there was a period of time before the release of the COVID-19 vaccines when individuals along Main Street confronted the volunteers who entered and left the center. during delivery operations.

Washington said MOWP brought back in-person dining events in April to Clark County as well as Washington and Multnomah counties in Oregon. In Clark County, they have been operating at the Luepke Center in Vancouver for a few weeks now, as well as in Washougal.

Currently, the MOWP is negotiating with the city for a return to community center dining, Washington said.

“We really want to bring back our dining site,” Washington said.

Washington estimated that MOWP was paying $3,000 a month in pre-pandemic rental fees for use of the community center. Post-pandemic, those costs will undoubtedly be higher, she said.

The organization is eligible for the city’s nonprofit rebate, city communications officer Alisha Smith noted in an email.

Besides the community center, Washington said MOWP was in talks with other groups in the area to find a place where they could potentially bring back communal meals.

Although regular MOWP lunches are not currently held at the community center, meals for seniors have returned to the space less frequently. Last month, the Battle Ground Senior Citizens group held its first monthly lunch at the center, moving the meal from the city’s senior center because it needed more space.

The pandemic has generally changed MOWP operations overall, Washington said. Although now the organization delivers more meals, it is less frequent with more meals per visit.

She said the organization was not yet returning to daily deliveries, although MOWP volunteers regularly call the people it serves to register.

Meals at in-person catering events were free although donations were collected. Washington said the average donation was about 75 cents per meal, which she noted did not cover the cost of making and delivering the meal.

The organization is always on the lookout for volunteers, especially as communal meals return, she said.

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