Dallas senior centers deliver free meals and extras, as pandemic demand soars
Mark Edwards, director of the Dallas County’s Department of Health and Human Services’ Older Adult Services Program, has seen firsthand the impact of COVID-19 on seniors.
Over the past year, the demand for free nutritious meals offered by the county to seniors in deprived areas has more than doubled, and Edwards has brought the food service to the streets to reach home-country attendees and others who are afraid to get out and about during the pandemic.
The agency used to offer personal meals in all 19 locations that are now closed, but has switched to home delivery and roadside pickup, according to Edwards. Since March 11th last year, the county has delivered more than 500,000 meals to seniors. The annual number before the pandemic was 200,000, he says.
The only qualification for beneficiaries is that they must be at least 60 years old. There is no minimum income.
“Many of our seniors don’t have strong community or family connections to rely on,” he says. “This program is essential to their survival.”
The Visiting Nurse Association prepares the food in Dallas, and a fleet of minibuses and vans from the county that used to haul elderly residents to senior centers and on activity trips is delivering.
Fun and games
Along with the meal, Older Adult Services will hand out puzzles and cards for bingo games twice a week. The bingo callers do stretching exercises during the games that are done over the phone as many customers do not have a computer.
Bingo cards are included in the meal packs for a game seniors play on a conference call.(Juan Figueroa / employee photographer)
“Older adults live in isolation. So our focus is on creating some form of socialization to include them in cognitive activities and physical exercise, ”says Edwards. “Our centers are mostly located in underserved communities, so they really have no opportunities for such engagement.”
The county’s 19 senior centers are home to nonprofit and government partners including the Salvation Army, Deaf Action Center, Dallas College Mountain View Campus, Dallas Housing Authority, churches, and the cities of Dallas and Garland.
“They are specifically designed for vulnerable communities where there is greater need – socially or economically disadvantaged communities,” says Edwards.
The centers typically offer cognitive games, field trips, fitness activities, and Christmas parties, as well as balanced lunches and nutritional education to help older adults lead healthy, independent, and active lives.
On a cold February morning, Francia De La Rosa, director of the Jefferson Senior Center, stood on the lawn of the Salvation Army Oak Cliff Community Center with a table with refrigerators.
She had been out and delivered meals from 8 a.m. and was back in front of the center at 10:45 a.m. to serve a hot lunch to customers.
“We usually ate around 70 to 75 meals [before COVID-19]and now we serve more than 100 a day, ”says De La Rosa.
The coolers contain sealed trays of warm pork grill with lemon Brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes, as well as bags of sliced bread, milk and a biscuit. She also hands out the puzzle and playing cards.
“It’s a great benefit”
“It is now healthy for me because we are closed and cannot see each other,” says Gloria Cano, who has come to look after herself and two older friends who cannot be transported.
“We do bingo over the phone,” she adds. “I like that. You can still hear them all.”
Jim Holacka waved goodbye to Francia De La Rosa after she presented him with a meal and a bingo card at the Jefferson Senior Center in Dallas.(Juan Figueroa / employee photographer)
Ramon Godinez stopped to eat too.
“Anything that you help us is a great benefit to all of us,” he says. “The food is very good.”
Sofia Meza, who won her first Senior Queen title at the Jefferson Senior Center, says from her car that she misses getting to the center for dances and activities.
“Everyone is very nice, like a family, and I feel like my daughter,” says Meza, pointing to De La Rosa.
Participants must register for meals every few days so the county has an accurate daily count.
“We also supplied detergents, insect repellants for summer nights out, hand sanitizers, and resistance bands for seniors to use at home,” says Edwards.
Funded by the Older Americans Act nutrition program and county funds, the program eliminated breakfast to fill the budget gap due to the surge in demand.
“The county is doing everything in its power to meet the needs of our seniors,” says Edwards. He also works on transporting seniors to vaccination centers and other projects.
“The pandemic has revealed a significant gap in community resources,” says Edwards. “For this reason, we plan to set up self-exam telemedicine booths for seniors to monitor their blood pressure and body mass index and to schedule telemedicine visits to their doctors. We plan to add telemedicine when the senior centers reopen. “
to get help
To register with Dallas County Older Adult Services, call 214-819-1860.