WARSAW — The meal delivery program for seniors offered through Kosciusko Community Senior Services continues on during the COVID-19 pandemic.
KCSS Executive Director David Neff made it clear that every possible precaution is being taken to ensure the safety of both volunteers and meal recipients.
Approximately 100 physician-approved meals are delivered each day, Monday through Friday, throughout the county by KCSS.
Of the nine routes in Kosciusko County, seven come out of Kosciusko Community Hospital, one route runs through Miller’s Merry Manor in Syracuse and the other from Harvest Coffee in Milford.
“For the safety of the volunteers, the bags the meals are put in and the books that have the addresses (of the meal recipients) are disinfected every day afterward so the volunteer that picks up that bag, rest assured that bag has been disinfected,” Neff said.
KCSS recently implemented a new system, referred to as Stop and Drop.
The seniors who receive home-delivered meals are setting coolers outside their door. If they don’t have a cooler, they can use a thermal bag provided by Meijer.
KCSS volunteers place the senior’s meal in the cooler or bag, knock on the door, then return to their vehicle and watch from there.
If the recipient comes out and retrieves the meal, the volunteer goes on to the next stop. If the senior does not come out to get the meal, the volunteer will call the recipient.
“This goes totally, 100 percent against what I would normally be telling people about the need to socialize,” Neff said. “But now, in a different world, it’s isolation, and we have some seniors who are having trouble with this, but we’re doing everything we can to ensure their safety.”
Sally Nelson, who normally comes to the Senior Center for a Real Services meal, is now receiving home-delivered meals.
“I miss coming to the Senior Center and talking to everyone,” Nelson said.
When Neff asked if she was clear on why the Senior Center and non-essential activities have been suspended and asked if she was handling the social distancing okay, Nelson replied, “Oh yeah, I understand the reasons for it. I’m doing okay.”
The change in the delivery process was made following communication with Teresa Reed, a registered nurse from the Kosciusko Health Department, in charge of contagious diseases, who advised Neff on March 11 to cease all non-essential functions.
“Teresa has agreed that this is a good system for delivering the meals,” Neff said. “We’re doing the best we can to get through this.”
Reed came to the Senior Center and spoke to seniors who were in attendance. She explained the pandemic situation and was available to answer questions.
“As of Friday, March 13, we’ve had no activities in the Senior Activity Center,” Neff said. “Teresa helped me define what are essential and non-essential functions.”
Neff said essential functions related to transportation include medical appointments and nutrition.
“We are taking Retired Tigers and other places to shop for groceries,” Neff said. “But the little old lady who needs her hair done is going to have to wait for a while. That is not an essential function.”
KCH is currently not allowing meal delivery volunteers into the building. KCSS employee Beverly Hershberger drives a company van to the KCH parking lot and the meals are brought out.
Neff said they will be distributing as many frozen meals as possible.
“That way, if things shut down and get worse, they at least have frozen microwavable meals,” Neff said.
Neff said he is aware there is concern at this time regarding the coronavirus situation.
“We understand if people decide they can’t volunteer,” said Neff. “We just ask that they look at what we’re doing to ensure their safety and make a decision based on that.”
The majority of volunteers are over the age of 65 with underlying conditions that put them in the higher risk category.
“That’s just who our volunteers have always been, the older generation,” Neff said.
William Smith, who recently retired from Ivy Tech, is KCSS’ longest-serving board member. He also is one of the meal delivery volunteers.
“It’s really something that serves the community,” Smith said of the program. “Dave (Neff) has turned this organization around. He literally turned it around.”
Neff requests that any volunteer who wishes to cease volunteering call him as soon as possible.
“If a volunteer decides that they no longer want to deliver meals, there is no shame, no repercussions. We have alternatives for delivery,” Neff said.“I’ll deliver the meals myself if I have to.”
Many of the seniors who would normally eat a REAL Services lunch have been converted to home-delivered meals, which has increased the cost for KCSS. There is a critical need for donations at this time.
“Things are rapidly changing and we are having to change our decisions just as rapidly,” Neff said. “My goal is to keep the home-delivered meals going for as long as possible.”