Ronnie Compton vividly remembers the days her mother cooked for her family while she and her siblings were growing up.
Her mother now suffers from dementia, and when she is not at her parents’ Otsego home caring for her mom’s many needs it’s her elderly father, who has his own ailments, providing for her.
It’s not easy, Compton admitted while picking up the front yard this past Wednesday when a Meals on Wheels delivery with enough meals for two weeks showed up.
“We’re all so grateful,” she said when asked what the delivery meant to her parents. “It makes life a little easier.”
Her reaction was not unlike many of the reactions from the home health aides, children of aging parents and elderly individuals themselves who accepted the deliveries on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this past week in what are being described by many as crazy and unprecedented days.
The Guardian Angels dining hall kitchen churned out more than 400 meals a day in condensed and intensified efforts to serve those either stuck in their homes or unable to come to the care center for a meal due to their health and or the COVID-19 outbreak.
Meals are now handed out in curbside fashion for those that can make it over or have someone fetch them. The other option is to have them delivered through the Meals on Wheels program.
Instead of a day’s worth of food, deliveries consist of 10 meals to the last two weeks. Meals for those in Elk River, Otsego, Big Lake, Zimmerman and Becker were prepared for pick up or delivery on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this past week and will be again on April 13-15 and April 27-29. The program will be reevaluated to see what will happen in May.
The service is orchestrated by Catholic Charities, based in St. Cloud. The overall operation covers nine counties, including Sherburne and Wright counties.
Willetta Fontaine, an Otsego woman, coordinates the Elk River operation, which used to be five days a week every week. That is until COVID-19 struck. The coordinator says the kitchen crews are working super hard to get all the food ready.
“We’re down to three days in two weeks rather than an everyday service,” said Ruth Hunstiger, the executive director of community services for Catholic Charities.
“We’re in unprecedented times,” she said. “We didn’t know what to expect. It was a little bit of a scramble for all of us to come together to decide how we were going to continue to meet the needs of seniors. It’s amazing what communities have been able to do and how creative we have been able to be.”
Some of Catholic Charities’ best volunteers for Meals on Wheels and congregate dining are themselves seniors who need to be concerned about their health. To assure workers’, volunteers’ and clients’ safety, changes had to be made and fast.
Many thought they could get through a couple of days of trouble, but when the days turned into weeks, the scariness set in for many.
The question still remains how long these conditions might need to stick around, Hunstiger said.
“People have been very appreciative of people breaking the mold of how we serve,” she said.
“We’re documenting our efforts, too, and we’ll try to make them fruitful if something like this ever happens again. We will have a framework to rely upon.”
Congregate dining has moved to a pick-up-and-go model. If that won’t work, people can register for Meals on Wheels.
Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, 2,000 meals a day were served in 52 locations in nine counties. It’s hard to know the exact numbers yet, but Hunstiger knows the dynamics have changed.
“It’s different,” she said. “Some of the folks who use congregate dining have said, ‘I’m fine — I have family bringing me food.’ Others who have never asked for Meals on Wheels now want to be part of this program.”
Registration is an important aspect of the program. The new service model will continue until it’s safe for seniors to go out, provided the paid coordinators and kitchen crews can remain employed at the seven cooking kitchens. Having enough volunteers is also critical. To learn more about getting meals, visit https://www.ccstcloud.org/.
To learn more about getting added to the list of volunteers, call RSVP at 763-765-4505.