Photo: Members of the the congregate meals program with VCH’s Population Health, North Shore back in February before the COVID-19 Pandemic. Volunteers now deliver the meals to their client’s front door wearing PPE to ensure both of their safety.
For a group of seniors living on the North Shore, the Diners Club was a must-attend event. The club, also known as the congregate meal program, was the chance for them to have a proper meal in the company of their fellow neighbours twice a week. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on the club of 32 years, but not the meal program.
Andrea Winterbottom, the congregate meals program coordinator with VCH's Population Health, North Shore, explained the group instead switched gears to keep the service going, albeit with one major change.
Volunteers now deliver the meals to their client's front door wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure both of their safety.
Despite the “congregate" being removed from the equation, Andrea noted the service is just as popular as ever. Roughly 180 residents from Anavets and the Twin Towers retirement homes are included in the program. The meals are prepared by Medley's Grill in the Holiday Inn & Suites and the Silver Harbour Seniors Centre.
While clients are appreciative of the meal and service, Andrea has seen the toll the pandemic has taken on this vulnerable population. Instead of social interaction with a boisterous group of neighbours, a door is maybe opened during a delivery.
“These people have self-imprisoned themselves for weeks and weeks because they're too scared to go out and they're afraid to catch something," she says.
Andrea added the pandemic has hit the residents who were the most socially engaged the hardest.
Bonnie Devlin, the resident services coordinator with North Shore Population Health, says keeping the program going, even in its current form, is extremely important, adding it not only gives residents a nice meal, but also gives them something to look forward to.
“We've really seen people get more anxious and more depressed … sometimes [the meal delivery] is their only contact they get even if they just open their door and wave hello," she said.
Bonnie noted the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted a number of other community programs that have either been suspended or have gone virtual.
As for the future of the congregate meals program, Andrea noted the service has funding for free-of-charge meals through August. She said her team is exploring different options, but added it will likely remain a once-a-week, no contact meal-delivery service directly to a client's home for the foreseeable future.