Senior says Meals on Wheels was a ‘godsend’ during pandemic

Senior says Meals on Wheels was a ‘godsend’ during pandemic

Julie Amaral, center, receives a visit from Oak Street Health Outreach Executive Mary Lou Dolan, Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt and Meals on Wheels of Rhode Island Executive Director Megan Grady as part of the March for Meals outreach campaign. Amaral received COVID-19 response meals from the organization during the pandemic. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

WOONSOCKET – Julie Amaral is something of an artist.

The 92-year-old decorates her Diamond Hill Road condo with paintings, leftovers from her days taking art classes at the Woonsocket Senior Center.

“I was 84 years old when I painted that,” she said, holding up a watercolor of a lighthouse.

“I like landscapes. I can’t do faces and people,” she added.

Those days are behind her now, and Amaral said she spends much of her day reading. Like many other seniors, she cut off her social visits at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the threat of the virus was worse than the boredom of staying at home.

To make matters more difficult, she stopped driving last summer. Amaral said her daughter and son-in-law help with cooking and errands, but it’s been tough to stay in a routine.

“I couldn’t get out because of the pandemic. And I’m all alone, and I’m elderly,” she said.

Last year, she signed up for Meals on Wheels of Rhode Island’s COVID-19 response meals, a program that ran from the early days of the pandemic until October and again in December. Meghan Grady, executive director of Meals on Wheels of Rhode Island, said the program allowed them to more than triple their daily meal output by partnering with municipalities to deliver frozen meals.

“We were able to surge our delivery from 1,200 a day to 4,000 a day,” she said.

In Woonsocket, that meant working with Human Services Director Linda Plays and Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt to get meals out to local seniors.

“She has helped me out so much. She’s my angel,” Amaral said of Plays.

Last Wednesday, March 17, Amaral received a visit from Grady, Plays, Baldelli-Hunt and Oak Street Health Outreach Executive Mary Lou Dolan (https://www.oakstreethealth.com/) as part of the March for Meals public awareness campaign. The month-long campaign aims to raise awareness about the Meals on Wheels program and the need for meal delivery in the community.

Amaral said for her, the program was a “godsend.”

“It meant a lot. It was wonderful,” she said.

Though the COVID-19 response meals ended back in December, Grady said the organization has continued their regular meal program and expects to deliver their 20-millionth meal in 2022. The organization, she said, is always looking for new volunteers.

Amaral, who retired from the Rhode Island Department of Human Services, said she misses “the little things” like going out to eat with friends, but thinks things are looking up. She recently received both doses of her COVID-19 shots and looks forward to getting out and going shopping again.

“I have a feeling that things are going to be better in the near future,” she said.