In Portsmouth: ‘It’s made life simpler for me’

Need for Meals on Wheels grew during pandemic, director says

By Jim McGaw
Posted 3/15/21

PORTSMOUTH — Although her husband of 53 years died in January, Gloria Newman said she’s still thankful for many things.

One of them is her health. Besides still being upright …

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In Portsmouth: ‘It’s made life simpler for me’

Need for Meals on Wheels grew during pandemic, director says


PORTSMOUTH — Although her husband of 53 years died in January, Gloria Newman said she’s still thankful for many things.

One of them is her health. Besides still being upright — Mrs. Newman will turn 91 on April 2 — she feels good for her age.

“I’m still fairly sharp, and that’s a good thing,” she said while welcoming guests to her Glen Meade Drive home last Friday. “And I’m blessed to have such wonderful sons. They’ve been extremely supportive and caring. My youngest son lives in Brooklyn, New York. They just purchased a house here in Portsmouth, on Independence (Court) — just down the road a little bit. This is their second home. I’m very fortunate.”

She’s also grateful to have gotten her first COVID-19 shot at the town’s vaccination clinic at Raytheon. (Mrs. Newman was scheduled to receive her second dose this week.)

“They were outstanding,” she said of the clinic volunteers. “It was quick, it was polite, it was well-organized. It couldn’t have been better.”

One more thing she’s thankful for is Meals on Wheels, which has been serving her not only good food but friendly visits with smiles — first in Somers, N.Y., then in Portsmouth, where she and her husband, Jack, moved in the fall of 2019. 

Earlier this month the Town Council proclaimed March 2021 as the 19th annual March for Meals Month, honoring Meals on Wheels programs that deliver “vital and critical services by donating, volunteering and raising awareness about senior hunger and isolation.”

The agency’s nutrition programs have served Rhode Island communities for 52 years. Meals on Wheels served 2,748 homebound Rhode Islanders and delivered 336,678 home-delivered meals in 2020.

Last Friday, the organization held a “celebrity meal delivery” in Portsmouth, with Council President Kevin Aguiar and council member Keith Hamilton — “I don’t know if we count as celebrities,” the latter quipped — joining R.I. Meals on Wheels Executive Director Meghan Grady in delivering a breakfast meal to Mrs. Newman.

“Throughout the month, we’re partnering with elected officials and corporate sponsors,” said Ms. Grady, who became executive director in June 2019. 

Mrs. Newman received not only a breakfast meal of an egg omelet, side of potatoes, whole wheat bread, juice and a dessert, but also an Eddie Bauer blanket, a book of crossword puzzles, a placemat featuring a drawing by a young Rhode Island child, and other gifts in honor of her upcoming birthday.

COVID-19 only increased the demand for home meal deliveries to senior citizens.

“Meals on Wheels has operated without disruption throughout the entire pandemic,” she said. “That’s something we’re incredibly proud of. During the height of the pandemic, we actually surged from 1,200 meals a day, to as many as 4,000 meals a day. Four hundred additional meals were coming into Newport County every day.”

The extra funding was made possible by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and then the CARES Act, “and that’s what really created an influx of funding for us to surge our delivery,” said Ms. Grady, noting that Meals on Wheels has taken every precaution to keep volunteers safe during the pandemic. 

For many seniors, the service has been a blessing during uncertain times.

“During the pandemic, many seniors shared with us that we were the only people they were seeing, and it really gave them peace of mind because one, they would be receiving a meal; but two, be able to stay safe in their home,” said Ms. Grady. “We could have never expected the immense need across the state. Senior centers were closed, and remain closed. People’s caregivers and family members either didn’t feel comfortable or weren’t able to visit them, and seniors themselves are at an increased risk with COVID-19, so many chose to practice social distancing and stay home. So, we saw our ‘More Than a Meal’ model was more critical than evers.”

‘I’m managing’

Mrs. Newman, a Brooklyn native and former executive secretary, had little chance to become acquainted with her new town before the pandemic severely limited her social options, leading her to feel increasingly isolated, especially after her husband’s death.

“I do enjoy the meals; it’s made life simpler for me since Jack passed away,” said Mrs. Newman, whose husband died on Jan. 12. “It’s difficult — 53 years of being together. But he was not well for the last two and a half years, and that’s why we moved up here, to be next to my son.”

Mrs. Newman said she receives physical therapy and walks outside when the weather is good. “I have some issues, but I’m managing,” she said.

“Well, none of us are close to 91, but we have issues, too,” Mr. Hamilton assured her.

The Meals on Wheels volunteers who come to her door are “lovely — every last one of them,” said Mrs. Newman.

“They’re as pleasant and nice as they could possibly be. I couldn’t be more pleased. And, anybody who’s not — well, that’s their problem,” she said with a laugh.

2022 by East Bay Newspapers

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.