Small ‘army’ of volunteers providing Meals on Wings to those in need

‘There are people out there struggling’: Local program feeds nearly 250 seniors

A small army of students at the University of North Florida and other volunteers spent the last few days packaging meals for senior citizens who can't afford or who are unable to prepare a Thanksgiving feast.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Inflation, job loss and disability are some of the reasons many senior citizens in our community are simply unable to afford or prepare their own meals. Many have called Meals On Wheels for help, but the need is far too great.

Some are placed on a waiting list, but that “gap” has been filled for the last four years by Meals on Wings, a program staffed by students and employees at the University of North Florida.

At first, Meals on Wings served just 25 seniors, but the pandemic and inflation have increased that need to the point the program, which packages meals for seniors on the waiting list, now serves nearly 250 clients.

Students and employees at the University of North Florida package meals for seniors on the Meals On Wheels waiting list as part of Meals on Wings. (WJXT)

“SNAP benefits are not going as far as they used to because they get a set amount each month, until that month adjusts because of inflation, they don’t get as much,” explained Meals on Wings chef adviser Meghan Niemczyk. “I get people who call me, they don’t have food and it breaks my heart. So, I think it’s important we all remember there are people out there struggling.”

Meals on Wings co-director Jen Ross said the food is donated and would otherwise be wasted.

“We receive meals from the local hospitals, the Baptist system, St. Vincent’s and UF Health,” she said.

These are meals that are prepared for hospital patients. Those patients are given meal options when they are admitted to the hospital. Frequently, there are meals left over. These meals are untouched, ready to be served.

The Meals on Wings program is unique since it does not involve canned food. (WJXT)

Students from UNF’s College of Health, Nutrition and Nursing pick them up from the hospital, bring them back to the kitchen at the university, and then package them to deliver to senior citizens.

Ross said they deliver, “four meals, fresh salad and fruit once a week,” to each of their clients.

The Meals on Wings program is unique since it does not involve canned food.

“With my chef background, I am very particular about how the meals look. I want them (the client) to open their meal and feel like it was made for them,” said Niemczyk.

Colleen Lightfoot, a client, said the meals are a lifesaver for her.

“It’s hard. I can’t get to the store anymore,” she said from her wheelchair after answering the door to a student who delivered her Thanksgiving meal.

Meals on Wings co- director Jen Ross said they deliver "four meals, fresh salad and fruit once a week" to each of their clients. (WJXT)

Lightfoot started receiving meals about two months ago. She said if not for the program, she would be eating cereal.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she said to the student who delivered her meal.

If you would like to learn more about the Meals on Wings program, click here.


About the Author:

Jennifer, who anchors The Morning Shows and is part of the I-TEAM, loves working in her hometown of Jacksonville.