Johnson County slashes meal delivery waitlist through DoorDash partnership

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Tim Wholf was surprised, and “kind of freaked out” when he discovered last spring that the county’s Aging and Human Services Department had a wait list of 60 to 80 people requesting home-delivered meals.

Wholf, who had recently become director of the department, told county commissioners it was troubling that so many people who needed the free meal delivery service formerly known as Meals on Wheels were unable to get it because of the limited number of routes.

So Wholf and his staff decided to go a different direction. Now DoorDash, the San Francisco-based meal delivery service, is delivering frozen meals to people who opt in. The partnership, plus a reconfiguration of some routes, has been effective, Wholf said. The waitlist is all but gone.

Johnson County began using Project DASH in July and has delivered more than 2,400 meals through the service to date, Wholf said.

How Project Dash works

Project DASH is a nonprofit arm of DoorDash and has already been in use elsewhere in the country. About 15 county and state agencies use it, said company spokesperson Keith Fernandez. The nonprofit arm also works with food banks and other social organizations to deliver shelf stable food and a variety of other necessities to people living with food insecurity.

Johnson County arranged to have Project DASH deliver three-packs of meals twice a week in July, with the first three months free. After that, the charge to the county became comparable to the cost of the home-delivered hot meals, he said.

Since Dec. 11, Project DASH has been delivering five-packs of meals every Tuesday. Wholf said the county has paid $700 to $800 on the frozen meals as of early January. Currently, 17 people are taking the frozen meals, out of a total of 749 who get food delivered to their homes.

Johnson County still delivers hot meals

Home-delivered (formerly Meals on Wheels) and Project DASH meals are provided at no cost to qualifying seniors. In general, recipients must be at least 60 years old and homebound, isolated or require a caretaker to qualify. In certain instances, meals can also go to spouses, residents who live with an eligible participant or people who normally take congregate meals but need delivery because of an illness or health condition. There is no income requirement.

Home-delivered meals are all cooked at the county’s central kitchen and delivered by volunteers. Project DASH meals are frozen and delivered once a week, while the home-delivered meals are hot and come Monday through Friday. Funding comes through the federal Older Americans Act.

The frozen meals are often a bridge for someone who requests hot meal delivery when the routes are full, Wholf said. People requesting meals are asked if they’d accept frozen Project DASH deliveries. Eventually they could be moved onto hot meal delivery when space opens up.

Those who don’t want frozen meals can opt to join the waitlist for hot meals. As of this month, all seven on the waitlist are people who opted out of frozen meals, Wholf said.

“It’s just been a great program, knowing we have no waitlist and individuals wanting meals are getting meals,” Wholf said.

After Wholf’s presentation on Thursday, Jan. 4, commissioners praised the program as an innovative way to meet the needs of seniors.

Commissioner Becky Fast noted that the county has more than 90,000 seniors now and that population is expected to double by 2039. She called it a “wonderful innovation,” but also suggested the county devise a broader plan for dealing with future needs.

Go deeper: Click here to learn more about the county’s Project DASH program.

Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist who reports frequently for the Post and other Kansas City area publications. You can reach her at roxieham@gmail.com.

About the author

Roxie Hammill
Roxie Hammill

Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist who reports frequently for the Post and other Kansas City area publications. You can reach her at roxieham@gmail.com.