Virus throws a wrench in MIFA’s senior meal delivery system

By , Guest Columnist Updated: March 23, 2020 6:38 AM CT | Published: March 23, 2020 4:00 AM CT
Sally Jones Heinz
Guest Columnist

Sally Jones Heinz

Sally Jones Heinz, a native Memphian, is president and CEO of MIFA, a 51-year-old nonprofit organization whose mission is to support the independence of vulnerable seniors and families in crisis through high-impact programs.

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Doug, a regular MIFA Meals volunteer, was delivering his route in East Memphis on a cold day a few months ago. As usual, he climbed out of his car in his 92-year-old client’s driveway, grabbed her hot meal and milk and knocked on the door.

No answer. He knocked again; he knew she was expecting him.

Finally, he walked around to the back of the house and saw his client on the kitchen floor. She had fallen and broken her hip. Doug called 911 and stayed with her until the ambulance took her to the hospital.

Then he finished his route.

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He never mentioned the incident to anyone at Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association, but his grateful client did. “Doug likely saved my life,” she told us.

<strong>Sally Jones Heinz</strong>

Sally Jones Heinz

Doug’s story is extreme, maybe, but for MIFA, it isn’t unique. Every single one of our more than 500 regular Meals on Wheels volunteers has changed the lives of the seniors they’ve come to know well. And they’ve had their lives changed for the better in return.

MIFA volunteers and staff deliver daily meals to 2,200 homebound and vulnerable seniors each month in Memphis and Shelby County. But we deliver so much more than a meal.

Sometimes our volunteers are the only visitors these seniors see in a day. Our research shows that consistent good nutrition keeps our homebound seniors healthier and out of the hospital during regular times. And we all know these are not regular times.

That’s why we have spent the last weeks figuring out just how we are going to keep serving our vulnerable senior neighbors who count on us during the coronavirus outbreak.

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It’s a daunting task, but our staff and volunteers are ready for it: Some of them have stepped back from their routes, but just as many continue to show up each morning, ready to go.

If you’d like to help MIFA feed vulnerable seniors in our community, please go to to give. You can also volunteer to check up on our vulnerable seniors regularly by phone; contact Candice Ivy at or 901-529-4586 to learn more. 

They call clients from the car to be sure someone is available to open the door. (We can’t leave meals on the porch unless we know they’ll be picked up immediately, according to Health Department regulations.) They carry hand sanitizer, which they use before every delivery.

They know – better than most of us – that we are all in this together.

We will soon stop daily deliveries to protect both our clients and our volunteers and staff. That’s why we’re working now to get as many frozen and shelf-stable meals into seniors’ homes as we can, in case a day comes when we can’t deliver at all. We’re renting freezer space to store the overflow that our own freezers can’t hold. If we can no longer use volunteers, our staff drivers will stretch to make more deliveries.

The moment that created MIFA in 1968 was one of turmoil and panic. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in Downtown Memphis, and people of faith who were already at work fighting poverty and hunger hoped to unite a fractured community. Out of that hope, MIFA was born.

Our donors, staff and the people of Memphis have helped us build an organization that is founded on the promise of serving our most vulnerable neighbors with respect, kindness and compassion, no matter what.

That’s why we will continue to deliver nutritious food, along with care and respect, to the homebound seniors who need us for as long as we possibly can.

One meal at a time.

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MIFA Meals on Wheels Sally Jones Heinz


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