The program has been serving seniors in the community for almost two years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has kept them busier than usual and brought a lot of obstacles.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — More seniors than ever need help getting food on the table because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Meals on Wings is helping bridge the gap.

Meals on Wings operates out of the University of North Florida Nutrition and Dietetics lab and delivers food to seniors that are on the waitlist for Meals on Wheels Jacksonville.

“At any time there’s anywhere from 900 to 1,000 people here in Northeast Florida on the waitlist,” said Dr. Jen Ross, UNF Nutrition and Dietetics Assistant Professor.

But first volunteers have to recover and repurpose the food — or take unused, untouched food from local hospitals and repackage it.

“We weigh the food, spread it all out and look to decide what meals pair the best,” project leader Leanza Mayo said. “We make sure each meal has a protein like meat, a starchy side like rice or potato, and then a nice veggie.” 

The program has been serving seniors in the community for almost two years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has kept them busier than usual and brought a lot of obstacles, too.

“I think when you deliver meals to people who are in need that is kind of what gets you through, and there’s a lot of need right now with what’s going on,” Dr. Ross explained.

Juniors and seniors in UNF’s Nutrition and Dietetics program usually make up the bulk of the volunteers, but they haven’t been on campus for weeks.

“Now during COVID, we are operating three days a week — just less people to make it go. And I think we’ve tripled or quadrupled the numbers we are serving as well,” Mayo said.

The program normally has the campus cafe providing food, too, but since its closed more local hospitals are stepping up. Meals on Wings now has six hospital partners donating food to its efforts.

If you would like to figure out how you can help Meals on Wings, visit its website here.

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Meals on Wings: UNF volunteers helping feed Jacksonville seniors during COVID-19 pandemic

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