AgeWell Services of West Michigan was a busy place even before COVID–19. The organization serves thousands of seniors in Muskegon, Ottawa and Oceana Counties and offers a variety of programs from elder abuse prevention, Meals on Wheels, and non-emergency medical transportation to wellness activities that support the mental and physical health of those over the age of 60.
Issues of quarantine and isolation have been especially challenging for seniors, who, as a group, have been disproportionately hit by the coronavirus. Soon after the first stay-at-home order was issued, their urgent need for access to nutritious, well balanced meals emerged.
“Our senior population told us they were afraid to go to grocery stores,” says Kris Collee, executive director of AgeWell, “so their access to healthy food suddenly became strained.’
The AgeWell team immediately put in place a plan for “curb-side” distribution of meals at locations across their region, putting food into the hands of thousands of seniors in a short period of time. Understanding the urgency, the Foundation provided AgeWell with an emergency grant of $7,500 to help cover costs of the program.
At the distribution sites, seniors receive a package that contains five meals. Three frozen meals include favorites such as meatballs, squash and rice, or cabbage rolls and vegetables. Two shelf-safe meals include items such as tuna, peanut butter, and pasta. They also receive milk and fruit or juice plus another side such as a roll and butter.
Each meal meets the USDA My Plate dietary recommendations. They are also diabetic friendly and contain no extra sodium. Seniors who can’t get to a meal distribution site can send a “proxy” to pick up meals for them.
By the end of May, AgeWell had provided curbside meals to more than 10,500 seniors. The program will continue for as long as the need exists.
“Every meal is created in-house by specially trained staff,” says Kris, of the organization’s efficient operation. Administrative expenses account for only about four percent of AgeWell’s budget.
“We can only do programs such as this because of grants like the generous gift from the Osteopathic Foundation,” adds Kris. “We are tremendously grateful to the Foundation’s board of directors for helping us keep seniors safe and well through this difficult time.”