Thousands of meals.
Thousands of wheels.
Thousands of stomachs to be fed.
It’s a feat that’s trying on any given day for local senior service agencies, and one that’s only been exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Food service providers for Kane, Kendall and DuPage counties said they have seen a stark increase in demand for meals as seniors shelter in place.
According to the Illinois Department on Aging, which recently donated $7 million to state agencies in order to meet meal assistance demands, more than 1,000 additional seniors apply for meal assistance every day.
In a single week, between March 30 and April 1, a total of 178,599 meals were delivered throughout the state, many of them in the Fox Valley area.
Marylin Krolak, executive director of Kane Senior Council, about 2,000 seniors throughout Kane and DuPage counties are provided with home delivered meals by her agency. These numbers are up about 30 percent from normal, she said.
“The centers have closed, and these seniors have no place to get a meal,” Krolak said. “These are the ones that are going to need help now that we’re sheltered in place.”
Krolak is going to make sure that happens. She and her colleagues are calling it the “Be our Guest” initiative.
The thinking is similar at Senior Services Associates, Inc., where Executive Director Micki Miller and her team are working overtime to keep clients happy, healthy, fed and occupied.
Usual assessments required for home delivery food services have been waived, and all seniors over the age of 60 qualify for five frozen meals a week.
Miller’s staff has been busy contacting seniors who did not previously opt in to let them know meals are waiting and ready.
With dispensary sites in Elgin, Aurora, and Yorkville, seniors may request to pick-up their meals or get them delivered to their home.
“These extra meals will be critical to giving relief to the local food pantries who are seeing record numbers and running short on supplies,” Miller said. “While we won’t directly see any extra dollars coming into our programs, it is our mission to make sure that our seniors are taken care of so we are working in partnership with nutrition providers in our counties to reach the most needy seniors.”
And sometimes, seniors need not only the food that Meals on Wheels programs provide, but the smiling faces of the volunteers who drop it off. Miller said her clients are longing for social interaction and activity as much as anyone right now.
Weekly phone calls, made to each client, are a way to keep Miller assured that all is well outside the center’s walls. Those five-minute phone calls, however, don’t often end at that.
“Sometimes the calls end up lasting 20, 30 minutes,” she said. “They just want someone to talk to. It’s sad. They’re depressed. They’re used to coming to these centers and doing things.”
When faced with a problem, Miller is quick to find a solution. Knowing social isolation causes quick deterioration in seniors, Miller has put hundreds of activity bags together as client gifts thanks to locally funded COVID-19 support funds. Crossword puzzles, trivia games, toilet paper, a plant to pot, cloth masks, and other gifts can all be found inside.
In addition to this, line dancing lessons are still on if you check out the Senior Services Associates Facebook page.
“We’re trying to keep them socially engaged,” Miller said. “It’s healthier.”
So, whether it’s millions in state funding for food, or hundreds in local donations for activity bags, social service providers agree that at this point, any little bit helps.
“We’re very lucky to be able to work with other community agencies and nutrition providers to come together,” Miller said. “There’s no reason anyone should go hungry in the senior population.”