By Dedra Cordle
As the chief executive officer of LifeCare Alliance, Charles Gehring recognizes the vital role of volunteers.
Since taking the reins nearly two decades ago, he said he has seen a number of similar social service organizations throughout the state and country fold due to the lack of volunteers needed to support their programs.
“We just cannot survive without them,” he said.
During his tenure, Gehring said he made the recruitment of volunteers a priority in the five counties the organization serves. He said to this day he remains grateful for the overwhelming support they have shown.
“We have thousands of active volunteers participating in our programs and services,” he said. “I cannot thank them enough for all that they do.”
While the numbers of volunteers fluctuate before and after the major holidays, Gehring said they have been fortunate to have their active volunteers ready to provide assistance as need be. Now, he said, those active volunteers are needed more than ever and the organization is requesting new volunteers to assemble.
“They are desperately needed to help provide services in several of our programs,” said Gehring.
Like most businesses and organizations, LifeCare Alliance has been impacted by the emergence of a novel coronavirus. The organization, said Gehring, has taken steps to weather the outbreak but changes have had to be made.
“We have had to close all 40 of our dining centers throughout the counties we serve,” he said, referring to Champaign, Franklin, Logan, Madison and Marion counties.
The dining centers, he added, were a hub of activity where the patrons, a majority of whom are older adults or those with medical and physical challenges, congregated to eat and chat and see friends.
“Due to the closure of our dining centers,” said Gehring, “more than 700 people have had to shift from congregate dining to home deliveries.”
In addition to the hundreds of new clients requiring home deliveries, the organization is also adding 50 new clients each day.
“We are fortunate to be able to still accept clients,” he said.
To meet the growing demand, Gehring said the organization needs volunteers for three of its programs. Those programs include Groceries-on-the-Go where volunteers pack meals at their pantry for cancer patients and those living with AIDS, weekend pet food deliveries to their eligible clients and Meals-on-Wheels.
According to Gehring, more than 5,000 meals are delivered daily across five counties through its Meals-on-Wheels program.
“It is considered to be one of the largest home meal distribution programs in the country,” he said.
Due to the increase of community members wanting to remain active or get out of the house during stay-at-home orders, Gehring said the organization has been incorporating daily training sessions at its central location at 670 Harmon Ave. in Columbus.
“Sometimes after their training session, they can get right out and get started on a route,” Gehring said.
He said that there are meal distribution sites at locations throughout the counties they serve. For instance, if a volunteer lives in Groveport, they do not have to come to Columbus to collect meals as there is a central location in the area.
“We do that in all of our areas because it makes the most sense logistically,” he said. “We have many volunteers who live in Madison County and we know not all of them want to, or can, come to London to pick up meals. So we have locations in Plain City, West Jefferson, Mt. Sterling and South Solon.
“We try to make it as easy and accessible as possible for our volunteers.”
As a precaution, Gehring said temporary changes have been made on route deliveries in order to protect their clients and their volunteers.
“We are no longer requiring the client’s signature when our volunteers leave their meals by the door,” he said. “We ask that, at this time, the volunteer step away or go back to their car and wait for visual confirmation of the meal pickup. Or they could call and seek verification that way.”
There are, however, some exceptions.
“We do have some clients who cannot come to the door so the volunteer will have to go in the house to deliver the meals.”
The organization has asked that volunteers take their temperatures before leaving for their route and to not deliver meals should they feel under the weather.
“We want everyone to be safe,” Gehring said.
The organization has also requested that families delivering meals leave their children in the cars or keep them away from the clients’ home.
“There are many families out there who love to do this as a group,” said Gehring. “We still encourage that but we ask that social distancing be maintained at this time.”
He said that despite the new guidelines, he knows the community will come out to support the LifeCare Alliance programs.
One such couple who intends to do just that is Karen and Phil Rohr. The Grove City couple have been volunteering with Meals-on-Wheels for approximately 20 years and said they have no intention to stop.
“We enjoy volunteering for this organization,” said Karen Rohr. “It gives us so much pleasure to be of assistance.”
She said they love the interaction they have with the clients (however brief as they have hot meals to deliver) and the comfort they feel knowing that they have played a small part in putting food in the stomachs of those who need it.
“Some of these wonderful people would probably never get a meal without this organization,” she said. “Knowing that we did something to get them that hot meal makes us feel like we have done something worthwhile.”
Rohr said she knows that it is recommended that older adults limit contact with others, but said that she and her husband have no plans to step away from delivering meals.
“We really didn’t have too much of a discussion about it,” she said. “We felt that if we followed the organization’s new guidelines, it would be fine to continue to deliver meals.”
She said she would recommend becoming a Meals-on-Wheels volunteer to anyone able to, global pandemic or not.
“It is just a great way to give back to your community,” she said.
To learn more about volunteering for any of the programs, Gehring said to call their hotline at 614-444-6325 or visit www.lifecarealliance.org. Background checks are required to become a Meals-on-Wheels volunteer.
The organization is also accepting clients for a number of their programs. To check for eligibility, call their service department at 614-278-3130 or visit their website for more information.