Tue Dec 01 2020 05:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

Home Delivered Meals to Seniors will continue 2021

With the New Year just weeks away, Ocean County wants to assure senior citizens who rely on the county's home delivered meals program that the service will continue in 2021.

"The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a significant increase in the need for home delivered meals for seniors living in Ocean County," said Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari, Chairman of Senior Services. "While this program has always been a lifeline for the elderly living in the County that has never been truer than this year."

As the pandemic worsened and greater restrictions were put in place across the County, senior centers and congregate nutrition sites where older adults gather for a meal and socialization were forced to close. In addition, many caregivers, who helped with meals were unable to visit with seniors.

"We now had a greater need and we had to address it," Vicari said. "In order to do so we surveyed our congregate participants and anyone in need of a meal was added to the home delivered meal program. Our numbers almost doubled.

The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders on Dec. 16 approved seven contracts for Community Services Inc. which includes providing almost 200,000 meals in 2021 to 1,940 clients.

"Before the pandemic began, we delivered meals to about 1,100 seniors a day," Vicari said. "Now, we are looking at delivering meals to almost 2,000 seniors daily. This is a monumental task but one that comes with immeasurable benefits as we provide a service that keeps our most vulnerable citizens safe at home."

The seven contracts awarded to Community Services Inc. for home delivered meals and a host of other services for seniors total $2.8 million.

"These services are key to helping our seniors continue to live independently" Vicari said. "The needs have grown exponentially due to the pandemic. This Board is committed to meeting the needs of our most frail and vulnerable citizens."

The pandemic significantly increased the demand for home delivered meals and placed additional costs and burdens on the providers to ensure the health and safety of the seniors they serve and their employees.

"In order to safely prepare and distribute meals to homebound older adults without exposing clients or employees to the virus providers had to incur the cost of personal protective equipment, disinfectants and other products in addition to changes to the service delivery system," said Maria LaFace, Director of the Ocean County Office of Senior Services.

For instance, she said drivers delivering the meals can no longer have close contact with clients including personally handing them their meal or talk with them face to face. All drivers are required to wear masks and gloves and maintain a distance of six-feet so meals are now left on a table outside the front door or on the porch. Drivers do wait to see if the consumer picks up the meal, to make eye contact and try to gage how the consumer is doing from a distance.

"While these necessary protocols have somewhat diminished the impact of the social connections previously enjoyed with consumers, they have allowed both seniors and drivers to be kept safe," LaFace said.

In order to make up for the lack of social contact when delivering meals, Community Services Inc. has increased telephone reassurance and wellness calls and have been doing them daily during the pandemic. In addition to calling all home delivered meals and congregate site participants, they are also sending out encouraging post cards and notes reminding them that they are thinking of them and are there for them. They also continue to provide homebound seniors personal hygiene items including soap, toilet paper, paper towel and other household items.

"This has been a difficult year for so many people but especially those elderly people that are homebound. The pandemic has made it nearly impossible for them to get out for grocery shopping and other essentials." Vicari said. "The home delivered meals program continues to be a lifeline for our seniors. In 2020, the program expanded in order to meet the challenges that come from the coronavirus. It is something our seniors rely on and we are committed to making certain it provides the help they need.