Since 2010, Meals on Wheels by ACC (MoW) has provided millions of nutritious meals to seniors aged 60 years or better throughout Sacramento County. As we emerge from the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, MoW is reopening sites and making exciting changes.
Meals on Wheels by ACC offers home-delivered meals to seniors who have difficulty leaving their homes or preparing food for themselves, and traditionally has provided lunch to Sacramento County seniors five days per week in their congregate nutrition program. While MoW’s meal deliveries to frail and homebound seniors continued throughout the pandemic, their congregate nutrition program, which hosted meals for seniors in group settings, had to shut down as a precaution for the health and safety of participants as well as staff and volunteers. Now, the program is making a comeback and offering some fresh new options.
“Now that people are vaccinated and boosted, we’re gradually reopening our congregate nutrition program,” says Nancy Bess, congregate operations manager. “In addition, we are building on positives that have come from the pandemic, such as new partnerships and new community support, and reimagining how we engage seniors. The pandemic has given us a new focus on making things work efficiently and emphasizing human connection in new ways.”
“The pandemic has given us a new focus on making things work efficiently and emphasizing human connection in new ways.” Nancy Bess, Congregate Operations Manager
Prior to the pandemic, MoW operated 20 congregate nutrition sites at senior living complexes and community centers throughout Sacramento County, serving lunch five days per week. With mandated lockdowns and concern for a vulnerable population, all 20 sites were closed in March 2020. Now in the recovery process, sites have been reopening since July at a rate of one per month, with time and care devoted to retraining staff and making each setting as safe as possible.
“Pre-pandemic, we served more than 600 participants per day at our congregate sites, and at the height of the pandemic, we were serving more than 1,300,” Bess says. “With people isolating, we expanded our meal delivery beyond the frail and homebound to anyone 60 and older who would have participated at our congregate sites. We contracted with DoorDash, the local nonprofit Paratransit, Inc. and ACC Rides to handle this expanded service.”
MoW has reopened four congregate nutrition program sites so far and is also looking to partner with new organizations to offer meals. Trying a new approach, they’ve partnered with restaurants to launch a new nontraditional congregate nutrition program called Dishes.
The Dishes program partners MoW with local restaurants where seniors can use a card to redeem a meal each day. “Dishes enables seniors to get out into the community and have a meal with their friends, which is true to our congregate program’s goals of relationship-building and combating loneliness and isolation,” says John Camarillo, program manager and registered dietician. “It also supports local businesses and offers a variety of cuisines to please all tastes, including ethnic-based options. We’re partnered with four restaurants so far with a goal of expanding that number, particularly in underserved neighborhoods.”
As MoW moves forward into the future, they will continue to reopen their congregate nutrition sites, build the Dishes program and expand their programming to better engage seniors. In addition to a new virtual cooking demonstration, they hope to create other virtual activity opportunities. Camarillo sees virtual yoga as one of the next possible offerings, as well as technology training so more seniors can enjoy those virtual offerings. He concludes, “We look forward to serving our seniors well into the future and to always improving our services.”