As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to shape our world in unforeseen ways, the importance of reaching out to those most in need has become ever more pertinent. Older adults are a segment of the population that has been particularly affected by the pandemic and lockdowns of 2020. Three different organizations along the North Shore—Age Well Arrowhead, Community Partners and Meals on Wheels—provide vital services to older adults such as transportation, meals and home visits. Volunteers are a vital part of each organization, and lending a hand is one of the most meaningful ways to give back to the community.
Age Well Arrowhead
Age Well Arrowhead is a nonprofit based in Duluth, with the goal of helping older adults live independently for as long as possible. Mary Bovee has been the executive director of Age Well Arrowhead for five years, and said that the organization’s many operations can be divided into four main categories: in-home support, caregiver counseling, consultation services and training.
While volunteers are needed in many different areas, one particular need since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic has been companionship. Volunteering as a companion means spending time with someone experiencing cognitive decline and providing them with someone new to spend time with while giving caregivers a break. Activities could include reading books, looking at photographs, playing games together, or helping with light tasks such as meal planning or running errands.
“With adult day centers closed since the pandemic started, people are really in need of companionship,” Bovee said.
Age Well Arrowhead also utilizes volunteers for providing transportation for anything from vital appointments to outings.
“We have volunteers who drive people to weekly eye appointments and chemotherapy, and to rehab appointments like physical therapy where missing a week can really set you back,” Bovee said. “But there are even times when people just want to get out of the house and take a drive to look at the fall leaves because they can’t do that on their own.”
Bovee said some have felt hesitant to volunteer due to fears of transmitting the virus to an older adult; while such concerns are valid, Age Well Arrowhead provides volunteers and participants with masks, hand sanitizers and trainings on safety protocols. Additionally, some volunteer opportunities are 100 percent remote: an example would be taking grocery orders, which is done from home. Regardless of whether a volunteer is working in person or remotely, all volunteers are provided with the support and training needed to feel confident about the work they’re doing.
Though based in Duluth, Age Well Arrowhead offers services outside Duluth including Cloquet, Hermantown, Proctor, Superior, and everywhere in between. Bovee stressed the importance of providing services to older adults who live in rural areas as those places are often underserved.
“We always encourage people who live in remote locations to volunteer,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to reach out to neighbors who may need help. Many older adults want to keep living remotely, even if they don’t have as much access to services.”
Those interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities can contact volunteer coordinator Peter Hafften at (218) 623-7804 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Potential volunteers fill out a quick application and work with the volunteer coordinator to find the best mutual fit. For those that can’t volunteer but want to support Age Well Arrowhead in other ways, they can contact Mary Bovee at (218) 623-7806 or email@example.com.
Community Partners in Two Harbors seeks to support independence for people over 60. Dana Thewis is the volunteer coordinator who oversees the various programs through Community Partners, including grocery shopping, transportation, and assisting with snow removal.
“Recruiting volunteers has definitely changed since the pandemic,” she said. “We used to be able to recruit face-to-face and reach out at events, which aren’t happening. We had many people reach out in March and April asking how they could help, but we are in need of more volunteers, especially as winter is approaching.
The arrival of winter means an increased need for the services that Community Partners provides, especially as icy roads and sidewalks make travel for older adults more difficult. With student volunteers back in school and seasonal residents leaving for the winter, the need for support becomes even more pressing.
One of the most impactful ways to help older adults in the community is by volunteering to remove snow. Over the winter, Community Partners gets regular calls from people who need shoveling or snow blowing done. Older adults who can’t get shoveled out are sometimes stuck, and that can affect whether volunteers can get to their house for other services such as Meals on Wheels. Thewis said that most snow removal companies prioritize clearing snow for businesses first, and that it can be hard for individuals who need timely help to find it, especially for those who live out of town.
“If you see someone whose driveway isn’t cleared, go clear it!” Thewis said. “We need volunteers but we also want to get people thinking about looking out for their neighbors. If your neighbor has a need and you can help, we don’t have to be in the middle scheduling it.”
Another way volunteers can help older adults during the winter months is grocery shopping. Volunteer shoppers go to Super One in Two Harbors to buy up to 25 grocery and household items for participants. Participants in the program have a pre-paid card that volunteers bring with them, and after shopping they deliver the items to the participant’s house. Some volunteers shop for the same person every week, getting to know their specific needs, while others fill in casually as needed.
In addition to the regular opportunities at Community Partners, Thewis said they are always open to new ideas. “Sometimes people think of ideas we’ve never done before—maybe they want to handwrite cards for people, or have another way they want to reach out. Whatever your idea is, ask.”
Those who are interested in learning more can contact Dana Thewis at (218) 834-8024 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Potential volunteers complete an application and phone interview.
Meals on Wheels
Further up the shore in Cook County, the Meals on Wheels program offers meal delivery to older adults who are homebound. Meals on Wheels is well-established throughout the US, and most communities across the nation have Meals on Wheels or a similar food delivery program. Food delivery programs help improve the physical and mental health of participants and decrease food insecurity for individuals who cannot grocery shop or prepare meals alone.
Locally, Meals on Wheels is one of the nutrition services offered through The Hub in Grand Marais, in addition to takeout lunches and frozen meals that are available for the weekends. The meals are prepared at The Hub, and volunteers for the Meals on Wheels program pick up the meals and take them out for delivery to homebound individuals. The cost of the program is reimbursed by the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency (AEOA.)
Like many organizations, The Hub has faced both challenges and opportunities while serving communities like Grand Marais during the coronavirus pandemic. Chris Bautch from The Hub foresees an increased need for services like Meals on Wheels over the winter months; that compounded with older volunteers stepping back for their own health means that new volunteers will be a welcome addition to the team.
“Since the start of the pandemic all of our Meals on Wheels is contactless,” Bautch said. “Volunteers drop off the meals at a designated spot in the apartment buildings or people’s homes, so there’s no interaction between volunteers and participants, keeping it safe for everyone.”
While regular volunteers are preferred, Bautch said that delivery driving is not a big time commitment: Once the driver learns the route, deliveries typically only take half an hour. Currently, Meals on Wheels serves participants within a five-mile radius of Grand Marais, though Bautch said expanding to the West End may be a future possibility, depending on the interest and availability of volunteers from that part of the county.
Apart from Meals on Wheels, The Hub has a wealth of resources available and other volunteer opportunities for those not keen on driving. Takeout and frozen meals are available for all ages, with seniors over 60 getting a discount.
Those interested in volunteering with The Hub or learning about other programs available can get in touch at (218) 387-2660 or email@example.com.