Riverside County ending restaurant-meal delivery program for seniors – Press Enterprise | #television | #elderly | #movies
More than 2,200 Riverside County senior citizens who daily get restaurant-cooked meals delivered are anxious about plans to halt a program that keeps them home and safe during the coronavirus pandemic.
Riverside County’s Great Plates Delivered program is part of an initiative launched by Gov. Gavin Newsom in April, and has federal dollars to keep it running through Jan. 7, according to a state website.
But the county, which serves 2,258 people three meals a day via 55 restaurants and other food operators, will stop delivery after Friday, Dec. 18, county spokeswoman Brooke Federico said.
And during the final week, which starts Monday, Dec. 14, participants will get two meals a day instead of three, Federico said in an email.
“I’m so saddened that it’s going to end,” Thyra Abraham, an 80-year-old Corona resident, said by phone Friday, Dec. 11, moments after receiving her meals for the day. “Couldn’t they at least wait until they served us Christmas dinner before they ended this?”
San Bernardino County also has a version of the restaurant-delivery program, county spokesman David Wert said. There are no immediate plans to discontinue deliveries, though officials are working to switch clients to other meal programs, he said.
Brian Ferguson, deputy director for crisis communication and public affairs for the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, wrote in an email that the state intends to request — as it has each month since summer — that federal money be extended beyond Jan. 7.
In a statement, Riverside County Board of Supervisors Chairman V. Manuel Perez referred to federal coronavirus-relief money, saying “we hope for a much needed CARES 2.0 to restart the Great Plates program.”
In Riverside County, restaurant-meal deliveries are administered by the Office on Aging. The office sent letters to participating residents dated Dec. 10, informing them of the end date.
The Fieldhouse Restaurant & Bar at SilverLakes Equestrian and Sports Park in Norco is one of the establishments that deliver meals.
Lelani Kroeker, executive director of business development and events at SilverLakes, said the restaurant’s 85 senior clients are worried.
“These poor people have been stuck in their homes for eight months,” Kroeker said. “They are calling me, asking, ‘What do you mean Riverside County isn’t extending the program?’”
Federico said the county decided to end the program because of concerns about being able to pay for other services.
“Due to limited financial resources moving forward, the county must prioritize food programs and meal delivery programs for low-income residents and ensure that funding is available … to respond to and lessen the impacts of the pandemic,” she wrote.
She said the Great Plates program has been widely available and eligibility isn’t determined by income.
At the peak, Federico said, 3,264 residents were served. As of next Friday, Dec. 18, more than 1,257,000 meals will have been delivered to senior citizens and vulnerable younger adults with medical conditions, she said.
The county is using $15 million in federal CARES Act coronavirus-relief dollars to cover a little more than half the $27 million cost, she said.
The county plans to use FEMA and state emergency funds to cover the remaining $12 million, she said, but has yet to receive that money — and doesn’t know when it will arrive.
“It’s important to understand that the county must first advance the entire cost of the program and then seek reimbursement from the state and federal government,” she wrote.
San Bernardino County has served 3,045 people through its Great Plates program, Wert, the county spokesman, said. Partnering with 37 eateries, the program has delivered 1.2 million meals, he said.
When Riverside County’s program began in April, Abraham, the Corona resident, said she called the governor’s office and the county Office on Aging.
“I just wanted them to know how grateful I was as a senior,” said Abraham, who moved to California from Hawaii 16 years ago to be closer to her grandchildren.
“This is a huge gift,” she said. “I used to get anxiety going into the grocery store, because you don’t know where the coronavirus is, who touched what.”
Because of the deliveries, she hasn’t had to shop for groceries or cook.
“I’m 80 years old,” Abraham said. “I’ve been cooking for years, I don’t want to cook anymore.”
Now she may have to. Abraham said she probably will “revert back to TV meals.”
Olga Mirabal, a 58-year-old Corona resident, a diabetic who said she has been diagnosed with diverticulitis, said she has many diet restrictions — no corn, seeds or nuts, no gluten, no salmon, no cereal, no milk, no pasta, no bread and no beef.
Knowing the program is ending and grateful for the attention to detail the Fieldhouse has shown to her diet, she sent a note thanking the workers there.
“It has helped me a lot, knowing that I have hot food every day,” Mirabal said.
Mirabal added that she is praying the program will be extended.
Bill Alden, owner of Pitstop Pub Sports Bar & Grill in Menifee, said he understands the county may be running out of money.
But, he said, the timing doesn’t make sense as it comes on the heels of the governor’s new stay-at-home order and when COVID-19 hospitalizations are soaring.
“Now you are telling them they have to go out and shop when they have been home this whole time,” Alden said. “It puts them in a more vulnerable place than they have ever been in since the program began.”
Alden said he and a partner get up early to cook meals and deliver them to 30 seniors in Hemet and Homeland.
“They became family to us,” he said. “It wasn’t just a job.”
On Friday, he said, they served up scrambled eggs, toast and hash browns for breakfast; orange chicken with an egg roll for lunch; and salmon or steak — depending on clients’ preference — with a baked potato and salad for dinner.
He and others have taken pride in delivering fresh-cooked, high-quality food.
Bill Blackburn, owner of Blackburn’s Catering in Corona, said he provided meals for Angels baseball players during training camp last summer, and to visiting teams at Dodger Stadium during the pandemic-shortened season.
“The food I serve to the seniors is the same food I serve to professional athletes,” Blackburn said.
Besides being a “life saver” for 60 senior citizens, he said the program has enabled him to keep employees on the payroll and hire chefs who were laid off elsewhere.
Blackburn said 90% of his business currently is being driven by the program, now that the baseball season is over.
“Everybody is a little nervous about it ending, especially so close to the holidays,” he said.