JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s such a simple but unique idea: use the extra food hospitals make for patients and donate it to be used to feed seniors. Why throw it away?
Meals on Wings started collecting this “extra” food from local hospitals about two years ago after discovering an increased need in providing food to homebound senior citizens. It serves clients who are on a waitlist for food from another meal delivery provider, Meals on Wheels.
Meals on Wings was created and is run by the University of North Florida.
“We started pre-COVID when we delivered to 25 seniors and now we’re delivering to more than 200,” explained Meghan Niemczyk, chef advisor to Meals on Wings. “Three days each week our students go to local hospitals and they get the food. This food was not served. It was just extra food.”
Students then package the food in a huge kitchen at UNF and label the meals. Students then deliver the food to various senior living facilities.
Volunteers are UNF students. Many, but not all, are students of the nutrition and dietetics program.
“We get to apply what we learn in the classroom when we build the meals,” explained Laura Rogers, a senior at UNF who added her favorite part is interacting with the senior citizens. “Sometimes these people, that is the only human interaction they have every week. It’s nice to see them every week.”
Samantha Burke, a senior at UNF, explained Meals On Wings focuses on providing healthy food.
“Last week, I had a guy, he was just telling me how happy he was to receive the meals and how delicious they were. He could not believe how good the meals were and how fresh they are,” said Burke.
Burke and Rogers deliver weekly to Carol Patton’s home, one of several on their route. Patton has arthritis and has trouble walking. She looks forward to seeing them every week.
“This one here, all the time she even knows my kittens, my cats. They’re like my family,” she explained gesturing toward Rogers.
Patton said if not for the food provided to her by Meals on Wings, she would probably only be able to afford peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, not the vegetables and fruits the program provides.
She was thrilled to receive this week’s meal: mashed potatoes, turkey, stuffing, broccoli, a roll and a small pie.
Meals on Wings does not deliver to individual homes. It works with senior coordinators at senior living facilities in Duval County to identify its clients. The program always needs volunteers. You must be a student at UNF. They meet in Hicks Hall three days a week. To learn send a message to: CNFS@unf.edu.