Meals on Wheels West launched its Community Connections Friendly Calling program at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to address isolation for its home-delivered meals clients. The program matches volunteers with clients who may be homebound or are experiencing isolation for regular phone calls twice a week. After experiencing challenges managing the program through Excel spreadsheets and manual data entry, Meals on Wheels West partnered with Mon Ami to implement a technology solution that streamlined operations and data capture, which helped the program to grow 6x in the first year of the partnership.
About Meals on Wheels West
Meals on Wheels West (MOW West) is a nonprofit organization serving the Los Angeles County coastal community. Its primary mission is delivering meals to homebound residents who are unable to purchase or prepare meals themselves, whether they are older adults, individuals with a disability, or formerly homeless people. It delivers over 200,000 meals per year.
However, while the primary work of MOW West is delivering meals, the broader vision of the organization is to “deliver more than a meal.” This means helping individuals to age in place, stay living on their own and living with dignity. One way it accomplishes this is through its Community Connections Friendly Calling program, which provides its clients with socialization and referrals to meet a broad range of needs. Volunteers act as the “Friendly Callers’ to call clients on a regular basis over time, building trusted and meaningful relationships.
Designing the Friendly Calling program
The Community Connections Friendly Calling program was launched in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to help reduce isolation and loneliness and to provide resources and referrals. MOW West staff recall it being a difficult time for many of their clients who were new to the experience of total isolation, and the Friendly Calling program was conceived to help individuals make the adjustment. That ‘temporary’ adjustment has turned into an ongoing program that continues to support MOW West clients to stay connected to their community.
The structure of the program is simple:
- Volunteers - All of the friendly callers are volunteers. In the beginning, MOW West transferred some of its existing home delivered meals volunteers to the Friendly Calling program and trained them to make socialization calls to clients.
- Clients - All of the clients of the Friendly Calling program are already MOW West clients for its home delivered meals program. When individuals enroll in the meals program, they are automatically enrolled in the Friendly Calling program as well, which is when MOW staff educates participants about the purpose and process of the program.
- Calls: Volunteers make calls twice a week every week to their assigned clients. The calls are made on days when meals are not delivered, so the schedule means clients have a touch point with MOW West almost every day of the week.
- Goal of the calls: For volunteers, their main goal is to build relationships and trust with the people they call. In addition, volunteers record client concerns and help direct resources and referrals to the clients depending on their needs.
Challenges of managing a growing program
When MOW West launched the Friendly Calling program, they utilized Google docs and Excel spreadsheets to track volunteer hours, calls, and client notes. They described a system involving stacks of paper and multiple file locations where information lived that made it difficult to manage the program. The MOW West experience is not unique. Many friendly calling programs that start with spreadsheets and paper processes have challenges staying organized and scaling efficiently when volunteers manually submit call data, it’s hard to verify accuracy of reported calls, and the data is not standardized and therefore difficult to analyze.
The Friendly Calling program needed to address a few key challenges if it were to grow sustainably:
- An easier way to track call activity: it was a requirement of grant funding to provide basic information around number of calls made, etc, and MOW West was interested in additional data to know how the program was performing.
- A way to protect privacy and ensure safety: some participants - volunteers or clients - are uncomfortable giving out personal phone numbers or do not pick up the phone if it’s an unrecognized phone number.
- A way to systematically collect client concerns: volunteers needed an easy way to submit concerns so that staff could respond in a timely manner to address them with resources or referrals given to the clients.
How Mon Ami partnered with Meals on Wheels West
Nearly two years after launching the program, MOW West partnered with Mon Ami to implement a technology system to streamline the operations and improve data capture. In doing so, Mon Ami was able to address the primary challenges that MOW West was facing:
- An easier way to track call activity → the Mon Ami system automatically captures call data in real time, including call date/time, duration, attempts vs success, etc. It eliminates the need for manual tracking of volunteer hours.
- A way to protect privacy and ensure safety → Mon Ami has the ability to mask phone numbers and designate a single secure phone number that all participants will recognize. MOW West gave its phone number the caller ID of ‘MOW West Friend”
- A way to systematically collect client concerns → the Mon Ami system allows volunteers to submit concerns via a text feedback form immediately following a call, which then show up in real time for MOW West staff to take immediate action
When MOW West started working with Mon Ami in January 2022, the program had 27 participants. After less than a year, the program grew 6x to over 160 clients served with a total of over 1,700 calls made in 2022. Together, volunteers and staff made more than 162 individual referrals to resources that address client needs in less than a year.
The MOW West staff attributes the growth to the team’s close monitoring of data and their responsiveness to what the data was telling them. For example, with Mon Ami, they could now see all the calls that volunteers were making AND all the volunteers who were not making callings. They could therefore follow up with those volunteers to find out why they were not making calls, reassign them if necessary, or add additional volunteers. Staff time was also freed up to focus on volunteer management, as opposed to manual data entry. As Executive Director Chris Baca states, “The efficiency of the Mon Ami system really helped us move away from the manual tracking that is time consuming. Instead, we can focus on the health and well being of the clients and focus on the outcomes. It’s really about improving the lives of our clients.”
The MOW West team has ambitious goals to grow the program to serve even more clients. In addition to growing the numbers within the program, the team is turning its eye next toward outcomes and impact tracking. It will look at the program’s ability to increase socialization using a quarterly survey to identify isolation levels. It also aims to demonstrate a connection to reduced hospitalizations and ER visits, a goal that potential health care funders may be particularly interested in.
Request a Friendly Caller starter kit by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org