CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — Shortly before Covid hit in February 2020, Meals on Wheels (MOW) Chesapeake realized they were undeserving of the Chesapeake community.

The enrollment numbers did not come close to meeting demand, and that’s when an innovative new director helped transform the organization to get more meals into the hands of the needy. 

“Most of the population we serve is chronically ill, or dealing with poor health,” says Meals on Chesapeake Director Megan Mann.

10 On Your Side spent a morning with the organization as they prepared to start a new day with a new purpose. 

The day begins every weekday morning in the Chesapeake Regional Hospital Cafeteria where angels are hard at work preparing meals for qualifying seniors and those who are disabled.  

Megan Mann was the ultimate volunteer for six years and loved the MOW mission so much, she became the Director in September 2019. 

She immediately realized her MOW organization had a problem, and she had to deal with it quickly. They weren’t getting anywhere near the grant money to support and pay for the meals. 

“We knew we couldn’t sleep at night. If we didn’t enroll people who needed us, they were hungry and afraid to go to the grocery store, then what are we doing?” 

There are 10,500 seniors in Chesapeake. Less than 100 were receiving meals.

And then COVID-19 hit. 

“We enrolled more clients, but we lost about 40% of our volunteers. They were immunocompromised, and could no longer help us,” Mann said. 

During this time, Mann got real smart real quick on how to apply for, and then receive grant money to underwrite the price of the meals. Her first grant was for $9,000. It should be noted it costs the organization about $1,500 per person per year for five lunches a week.  

“Then we found other grants over the last two years totaling $80,000 to help sustain the base we had built up during Covid,” Mann pointed out.  

Things were heading in the right direction.  

210 volunteers then grew to 325, and then the economy tanked. Inflation, food, gas, and almost everything you buy in stores went up. 

“This month alone due to inflation, we have fielded 50 phone calls, and we have enrolled half of those people at this point.” 

The numbers are going up. 

Thanks to Mann’s leadership, the grant money is coming in. 

Her strategy is summed up as “Building Community Partners” through a new partnership with Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia. 

Progress can be seen every day. 14 volunteers come to the hospital to load up the meals for 14 different routes. 

Also noted, more people are calling for meals, and they respond with the sweetest words back to them. 

“Our response now is, yes we can help you,” Mann said smiling. 

The number of participants has grown from less than 100 in 2019, to 162 today and growing. Since Sept. 1, Mann says they have 24 new participants. 

“I actually do get emotional. I have a hard time sleeping at night if we can’t serve the people who call us, and who desperately need us.” 

“I’m selfish. I get a lot of satisfaction out of this helping people,” said Morris Exum who has volunteered at MOW for 2 ½ years. 

Exum is retired from the military and delivers to the most food-challenged zip codes in Chesapeake. 

“Hello, Meals on Wheels here. How are you doing today?’ He says this at every stop after knocking on the door. 

Another example of MOW Chesapeake expanding programs is by delivering pet food and supplies to participants and also helping with paying veterinarian bills. 

“We are launching a pet program benefitting the pets of participants that need us. 65% of participants can’t afford to pay 65% for veterinarians, pet supplies or food, so we are going to assist them with those costs.  This is covered by grants paid for by Meals on Wheels America, and Pet Smart,” said Exum 

Exum and other drivers pile up 55,000 miles a year delivering these gifts of love.