Agencies Take Steps To Ensure Coronavirus Doesn’t Stop Seniors From Getting Nutritious Food

Many Congregate Dining Sites Are Still Open But Agencies Are Taking Extra Precautions

Elderly hands on cane
An elderly person’s hands on a cane Pixabay

On a normal day, Fresh Meals on Wheels of Sheboygan County cooks about 300 meals, said organization CEO Kelly Anderson.

That number skyrocketed last week to a couple thousand meals per day.

“Our grocery bills are through the roof,” Anderson said.

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Thousands of Wisconsin seniors visit congregate dining sites or rely on meal deliveries for nutritious food. Agencies around the state, including Fresh Meals, are working to ensure Wisconsin seniors will have access to healthy offerings as the state ramps up measures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

Fresh Meals is flash freezing meals with plans to deliver them to some clients in bulk, Anderson said. In some cases, volunteers will check in with clients over the phone instead of in person. Fresh Meals has also invested in touch-less thermometers so it can begin taking the temperature of volunteers starting Monday.

It’s important that Fresh Meals takes these precautions because most of its clients are 85 or older, Anderson said.

“We don’t want people going out if they’re sick and spreading anything to people who are the highest-risk population,” she said.

In Milwaukee County, about 1,400 people receive meals delivered by the Department on Aging. The agency recently asked its caterers to make 6,000 frozen meals, said senior dining manager Gaylyn Reske. She said she also ordered 1,000 shelf-stable lunches to ensure people have access to food in the event deliveries or congregate meal service is disrupted.

More than 1,600 people regularly visit Milwaukee County’s congregate dining sites, which were open Friday, Reske said. It will be up to individual municipalities if they chose to close the sites in their area, she added. Three sites shifted to carry-out meals only beginning Monday, and an additional site will make the change Tuesday.

As of Friday, one congregate dining site operated by the Brown County Aging and Disability Resource Center had closed as a result of measures put in place to slow the spread of the virus, said nutrition program coordinator Kimberly Gould. It was held at the De Pere Community Center, which has suspended all senior activities.

The agency also delivers meals to homebound residents. Gould said delivery volunteers have been encouraged not to spend too long with clients. She said the agency is working closely with the Brown County Public Health Department to adapt its procedures as the situation surrounding the new coronavirus evolves.

“There’s no more important time than now to provide these services to seniors,” she said.

The Aging and Disability Resource Center of Central Wisconsin serves residents in Langlade, Lincoln, Marathon and Wood counties. It was still offering congregate dining as of Friday afternoon, said nutrition program manager Ronda James.

James said the agency is exploring ways it can continue to serve seniors should it need to close congregate meal sites or if its staff or volunteer delivery drivers get sick.

“We’re concerned about those more rural and isolated persons having access to nutritious food and having what they need, including someone checking in on them,” she said.

But she said the agency has the benefit of support from the community. As precautions related to the new coronavirus have become more extreme, some residents have volunteered to deliver meals, while others have offered to cover the cost of frozen or shelf-stable food, she said.