SAN DIEGO, Calif. – One year ago, on March 12, 2020, Serving Seniors was ordered to shut down one of its core services to impoverished San Diego county seniors. As the largest provider of meals to San Diego County’s older adults, it could no longer keep its 11 congregate meal sites open due to the public health crisis.
Virtually overnight, Serving Seniors rapidly responded to the urgent health and nutritional needs of San Diego County’s low-income seniors impacted by COVID-19, creating a new program from scratch to provide home-delivered and to-go meals for clients.
As a result, average meals provided per week increased from 13,511 pre-COVID to 33,131 meals provided per week, an increase of nearly 145%. The total number of meals served in the past 12 months surged to 1.7 million meals served to 5,467 clients in response to the increased calls from seniors seeking assistance.
Chief Operating Officer Melinda Forstey took on the daunting challenge of designing a new full-scale home delivery program on overnight.
“Where there is a need, we must find a way,” said Forstey. “We know two in five older adults in San Diego County can’t afford basic rent, food, transportation, or healthcare. We couldn’t let them go hungry and threaten their ability to remain independent because of the pandemic.”
New program delivers nutritious meals on 26 delivery routes
Nutrition Program staff manage the client roster, including information on dietary restrictions or health challenges. Menus are developed monthly in collaboration with County of San Diego registered dieticians, and meal-preparation contractor Trio Community Meals.
All meals are prepared fresh daily each morning in the Serving Seniors Potiker Family Residence kitchens in the East Village. Serving Seniors drivers deliver the meals to homes on 26 delivery routes throughout the county, as well as distribution hubs in Oceanside and in the South Bay area of San Diego. Deliveries take place Monday through Friday, with additional meals provided Thursday and Friday to cover the weekend.
To-go meals are also available at Serving Seniors in downtown San Diego, and the Oceanside Senior Center. Meals are served 365 days a year.
“You never know what you’re capable of achieving until you face a crisis like this one,” said Serving Seniors CEO Paul Downey. “Thanks to our incredibly dedicated and capable team, we did not miss a single day of providing meals to our clients during the last year.
“One year later, we have the opportunity to assess the lasting impact and long-term implications for seniors and for programs and services needed when things return to ‘normal.’ Once we receive clear guidance from the CDC regarding indoor activities, we anticipate opening our service sites later this year. We remain focused for now on the safety of our clients who are mostly at high-risk for serious outcomes from COVID-19. But we are also acutely aware of the mental health implications of the long-term isolation,” said Downey.
Once a client starts receiving meals, a Serving Seniors case manager meets with each person to determine whether any other services or resources might benefit them, providing an additional outreach opportunity to low-income and homeless seniors.
The Senior Nutrition Program is staffed with a team of 39 employees including a food service director, site coordinators, a home-delivered meals manager, and food service workers and drivers. Food Service Director Dianne Sanders has 28 years of experience implementing and managing Serving Seniors' nutrition programs.
As the largest provider of meals to San Diego County older adults, Serving Seniors has provided nutritious congregate meals since its inception in 1970, and home-delivered meals for over 30 years. To date, Serving Seniors has provided over 13 million meals to an estimated 58,000 San Diego County seniors.
About Serving Seniors
Founded in 1970, Serving Seniors is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Diego, California, dedicated to serving low-income adults aged 60 and over. A leader in senior advocacy and programming, Serving Seniors has created an innovative model of comprehensive services including nutritional meals, housing, health and social services and lifelong learning opportunities to hundreds of seniors in need. It is the largest provider of meals to seniors in San Diego County, and one of the only organizations in the nation providing such a robust range of services to vulnerable, at-risk older adults.
Serving Seniors President and CEO Paul Downey has been instrumental in the organization’s growth over the past 25+ years. Since being appointed the role in 1995, Downey has guided the nonprofit’s innovative efforts to provide supportive services focused on keeping low-income seniors healthy and independent.