Safety and Connection: Senior Nutrition Program
With extra meals and a lot of TLC, the Senior Nutrition Program helps keep seniors safe and connected.
In Bandon, the senior meals program offers group lunches at the Bandon Community Center and Meals on Wheels delivery for homebound clients. The community center is among many group venues closed since March to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But, Bandon meals cook-manager Tracey Godfrey is still cooking and organizing essential meal service each Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
“We want to keep seniors home as much as possible,” said Godfrey. “Homebound (clients) are our priority. Our congregate seniors can get out more, but we take care of them too.”
On a recent Tuesday morning, Godfrey prepared a savory batch of scalloped potatoes and ham with steamed carrots and cauliflower on the side. The freshly cooked items were individually portioned and sealed in to-go boxes. Salad and fruit cups, plus sandwich boxes, were also prepped for take-out.
“We’re feeding them well,” she said.
At noon on a typical Tuesday, the community center dining room hums with the sound of conversation as local seniors come together, catch up on neighborhood news, and share a hot lunch.
The space is quiet these days. Participants arrive between 11 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. They take turns entering through the back door to pick up meals. Godfrey meets each individual or couple. She offers a quick greeting, then heads to the kitchen to bag the meal orders. Social distancing signs in the makeshift reception area remind everybody that safety is a priority.
Godfrey said many of the regular diners are eager for more social time but worry about their health. Since COVID-19 symptoms are more severe for elders, and those with other health complications, it may be some time before the dining room is open again for congregate meals.
“I’m glad to be here,” said Godfrey. “And I’m looking forward to getting back to normal.”
In Coos and Curry counties, the Senior Nutrition Program is sponsored by the South Coast Business Employment Corporation through its Area Agency on Aging office. The program provides nutritious meals and healthy social interaction for residents age 60 or older and their spouses. Donations are invited but not required.
Regular funding comes from the Older Americans’ Act, as well as contributions from local businesses and individuals. Oregon was approved in March for federal coronavirus aid to help provide pre-packaged meals for home delivery to older adults. Additional support has come from local donors.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of support from individuals, businesses and grants,” said Melissa Dovenspike, district director for Coos and Curry counties. “Our intent is to keep (seniors) home and safe as much as possible.”
Right now, the program is offering additional meals to an increasing number of participants. On average, the senior meals program provides between 8,500 and 9,000 meals per month. The numbers increased to 12,000 meals in April and 16,000 in May.
“We have requests coming from every town in Coos County and Curry County,” said Dovenspike.
Congregate diners may request up to seven lunches per week. Homebound participants receive 14 meals per week. Breakfast bags are packed with morning snacks such as oatmeal, cold cereal and fruit juice. Along with lunches prepared by local cooks, frozen meals are also available in a variety of meat and vegetarian options.
Staff and volunteers know food isn’t the only item seniors may need to stay comfortable while sheltering in place. Extras such as hospitality bags include toothpaste and other personal hygiene products. And, SCBEC coordinates with community partners such as health centers to help deliver other necessities.
Additional weekly meals will continue until congregate dining resumes. As Oregon relaxes social restrictions, businesses are re-opening and small gatherings are allowed in many Oregon counties. Re-starting group dining for seniors will depend on the number of COVID-19 cases reported in the coming weeks, according to Dovenspike.
“All of the directors around the state are working together on a timeline,” she said.
In the meantime, additional volunteers are invited to assist with meal prep and delivery. Volunteers should have flexible schedules and must pass a DHS background test. Those interested in volunteering and those who would like to request home delivery should contact Tilyne Godeniz at SCBEC, 541-269-2013.
Photos from top: Homemade scalloped potatoes with steamed carrots and cauliflower in to-go containers, Bandon senior meals participants Darwin and Marilyn Noorda (photographed September 2019), frozen meals stored in the Bandon Community Center kitchen walk-in