By: Stephanie Ntim
“It’s almost like the new normal,” says Senior Services Meals-on-Wheels Services Associate, Kevin Gaines, in reference to how quickly things continue to change within and without the organization. This year has been unlike any other for Senior Services’ staff, due in large part to the challenges that have arisen in the face of the pandemic that has affected virtually every aspect of our lives. According to Gaines, those challenges have been felt perhaps most acutely in the lives of older adults who participate in the organization’s programs. Despite the unpredictable nature of 2020, Senior Services staff, volunteers, and participants remain resilient in the face of obstacles presented by COVID-19. Even with significant changes in daily operations, Seniors Services continues to engage with and provide services to participants in meaningful ways.
The Meals-on-Wheels program has made some of the biggest adjustments since COVID-19 started. Gaines is proud of the work done in recent months to continue its support of the aging population in Forsyth County. Historically, through the efforts of a small army of volunteers, Meals-on-Wheels delivered one hot, nutritious meal to program participants each weekday. In an attempt to help reduce the spread of the virus and minimize the risk of infection to volunteers and participants, the organization has placed the majority of volunteers on hiatus and transitioned from daily hot meals to a five-pack of frozen meals delivered once per week to Meals-on-Wheels participants. This policy will remain in effect until it is safe enough to resume daily hot meal delivery. It’s Gaines’ job to perform participant reassessments in the program, meaning that every six months he follows up with people enrolled in Meals-on-Wheels to make sure their information is up-to-date, they’ve got the support they need, and that their needs haven’t changed. Additionally, Gaines helps link participants with the Senior Services’ Help Line program, which provides resources for home care, and transportation needs, among other services. Prior to COVID-19, reassessments were often conducted in- person allowing Kevin an opportunity to connect personally with the people he serves. In an attempt to reduce risks and keep staff and participants safe, his reassessments are now conducted by phone. That’s a bit of a disappointment for Gaines but despite reduced face-to-face interactions with participants, he says, “I love that the organization remains committed to meeting their needs. I’m committed to that too.” While completing Meals-on-Wheels operations reassessments by phone, he still makes sure to take a little time to ask how participants are doing and if they need any additional assistance.
With the reduced volunteer force, Gaines has taken it upon himself to help with meal deliveries, too. “I want to help make sure people are still getting balanced, nutritious meals…that last at least a week and then the following week we deliver again. We’re pretty much just doing Senior Services things as far as our mission—despite COVID,” he says. As COVID-19 remains a concern in Forsyth County, Kevin intends to stay on course by practicing all safety precautions such as wearing a mask, sanitizing often, and physically distancing from co-workers, volunteers, and participants while continuing to provide service.
He maintains that Senior Services has not wavered from its mission to help older adults remain at home for as long as possible and age with dignity. “We’re continuing to work with the senior population, continuing to provide a needed service, just staying the course.” He’s seen a level of dedication marked by great care, similar to that of a family: “I feel that at Senior Services we’re providing a service that we would provide to our own family members…so that’s the care that’s delivered on a daily basis.”
Kevin wants to encourage people to keep moving forward, just as the organization adapts operations to support older adults, who are among the demographics most susceptible to severe complications from COVID-19. “You have seniors in the community who can no longer prepare meals for themselves. Because they are at such high risk of getting COVID, Senior Services is filling in that gap by delivering balanced meals for [those who] can no longer prepare [meals] for themselves.”
His advice to the public: “Continue to donate, continue to provide canned goods and shelf-stable items. We’ve had people bring in donations quite a bit. The community is definitely still participating and helping us to keep moving forward.”