As we all know, the segment of our population hit hardest by the recent pandemic – and one of the most vulnerable – is older adults. Even something as basic as getting a meal has become a challenge. With most seniors being told to stay home, it has become more and more difficult for them to receive proper nutrition. Fortunately, local organizations have stepped in to meet the increased demand.
Realizing the impact COVID-19 could have on older adults, our Area Agency on Aging – Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio (COA) – and its service providers, began preparing in January.
“We learned from past emergency situations that food quickly becomes an urgent need for older adults,” said Council on Aging CEO, Suzanne Burke. “We didn’t want supply chain or staffing issues to interfere with our ability to provide meals to older adults, and we knew that they might be asked to shelter-in-place for quite a while.”
COA’s intuition was spot on. When Ohio Governor Mike DeWine issued the stay-at-home order in March, COA began hearing from older adults who were afraid to go out for groceries and other necessities. Others found themselves without their regular support network. Many who contacted COA had never before needed help.
Working with its provider network, including two local agencies, Cincinnati Area Senior Services (CASS) and Meals on Wheels of SWO & NKY (formerly Wesley Community Services), COA quickly adapted services.
CASS and Meals on Wheels have stepped up helped assemble and deliver 15,000 emergency food boxes to home-delivered meals recipients. And seniors who previously attended congregate meals began receiving “carry out” meals. Another 500 older adults began temporarily receiving home-delivered meals due to the pandemic.
Fortunately, throughout the pandemic, regular meal delivery has not been disrupted and seniors have been getting the meals and nutrition they need.
But the extra meal deliveries mean providers, their staff and volunteers have been working hard. In a typical month, CASS provides approximately 35,000 meals to older adults in Hamilton County. Meals on Wheels serves approximately 55,000 meals monthly in Hamilton County, as well as Clermont, Butler and Warren counties (and Northern Kentucky).
Once the pandemic hit, CASS saw the need for meals increase dramatically. In April, the agency delivered over 60,000 meals. Likewise, Meals on Wheels has dramatically increased deliveries, as they provided over 100,000 meals.
COA, CASS and Meals on Wheels have partnered in out-of-the-box ways throughout this pandemic to ensure the nutritional needs of older adults in this region are met.
For example, when a severe storm left several senior housing communities without power for more than 24 hours, COA and providers responded within hours to provide food and ice to residents in the buildings.
With additional funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (H.R. 748), also known as the CARES Act, COA was able to expand meal programs to serve more seniors in need during the pandemic.
“When the pandemic began to spread, COA understood the critical need for food to keep seniors health and safe,” said Randy Quisenberry, Manager of Procurement and Provider Services with COA and a board member of the Association for Professionals in Aging. “COA put together alternative meal programs in case any disruptions in food delivery arose. This included a 14-day emergency box with shelf stable food – of which 75,000 were delivered. Additionally, we wanted a back-up kitchen in case of a disruption of service like another outbreak or supply chain issues with inventory. We reached out to LaRosa’s, Taste of Belgium and Frisch’s, and all three agreed to help deliver over 10,000 restaurant meals to senior buildings in Greater Cincinnati.”
“While we’re focused on providing food, we also want to bring comfort to older adults and let them know they are not forgotten,” added Burke. “We hope a special meal from Taste of Belgium, LaRosa’s or Frisch’s is a welcome change of pace for older adults who are experiencing the effects of social isolation.”
The meals have been a comfort. Almost immediately, COA, CASS and Meals on Wheels began receiving thank you notes and voicemails from older adults who’d felt forgotten and depressed by the monotony of the pandemic.
All this would not have been possible without the dedicated employees of CASS, Meals on Wheels of SWO & NKY and Council on Aging. As the Area Agency on Aging for Southwestern Ohio, COA administers the Title III meal program and works with providers such as CASS and Meals on Wheels of SWO & NKY to ensure older adults and people with disabilities receive the nutritional support they need in order to remain independent in our communities.
If you know of a senior who needs help during the COVID-19 pandemic have them contact Council on Aging at (513) 721-1025. COA has also created a coronavirus information hub on its website – www.help4seniors.org/coronavirus.
Thanks to Paula Smith from Council on Aging for providing much of the information for this article.