By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

Northwest senior services still providing meals

More than 56,000 senior citizens in Yamhill County received meals from NorthWest Senior and Disability Services food programs last year, so when the COVID-19 response closed its communal meal sites, the agency had to find a way to keep providing important nutrition.

And it has, by offering seniors the opportunity to pick up their meals and go, said Kevin Grossnicklaus, the organization’s nutrition manager.

While some have opted out, having been primarily interested in the social aspect of the meal program operated in three locations around the county, most have continued to participate, he said.

In total, the agency oversees 14 meal sites in five counties, and last year provided a total of 267,000 meals.

It is also continuing Meals on Wheels, he said. To help keep both the recipients and delivering volunteers safe, as they are often older than 60 themselves, they no longer hand the meals directly to clients.

Instead, volunteers ring the doorbell, set down the meals and step back at least six feet.

Because welfare checks are an important part of the meal delivery service, he said, volunteers will remain a few moments to chat about how the recipients are doing that day.

“We are starting to do some phone reassurance calls to some of our homebound people. Some of them might be more isolated than they were before. They don’t have the ability to get out the way they used to,” he said.

This week, Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden issued a joint news release announcing they secured more than $3 million to help provide home-delivered and pre-packaged meals to low-income older adults.

“The federal government must be a full partner to our state as we work to contain this virus,” Merkley said. “That means looking out for our vulnerable neighbors, including seniors who are most at risk for experiencing severe symptoms from the coronavirus. And that means making sure funding goes to where it’s needed most.”

Any additional income will certainly be welcome, Grossnicklaus said.

So far, Yamhill County has seen only a small increase in the number of people asking for meals, he said.

“I think really it depends on the length and duration of this,” he said. “Three months is different than two months. We might really see an increase, if this were to go on.”

For elderly Oregonians struggling to make ends meet, “a home-delivered meal is a lifeline,” Wyden said. “That’s especially true during this coronavirus public health crisis, and I’m glad these resources are now flowing to support some of our state’s most vulnerable seniors.”

On Wednesday, the Senate approved another bill that will provide $1,200 direct payments to most Americans. It advances next to the House, which is expected to approve it today.

Grossnicklaus said many people who participate in the program experience food insecurity.

He said the agency has been working to accommodate needs as best it can. Some meal site clients, for example, have asked to have all their meals for the week at once, instead of having to travel daily to pick them up. The agency has been happy to oblige, he said, providing meals to freeze and reheat at home.

Such requests need to be made in advance.

NWSDS normally provides meals at three sites in Yamhill County: McMinnville, Newberg and Sheridan.

The agency is supplying the meals to go at all three sites. Last year, he said, it served 28,500 meals in McMinnville, 18,500 in Newberg, and 9,400 in Sheridan, Grossnicklaus said.

“That’s a pretty good number of meals coming out of those meal sites,” he said.

All meals are produced and packaged in the agency’s Salem kitchen.

The $3.2 million in funding originates from $250 million in grants included for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, bipartisan legislation to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and support Oregonians.

In addition to this funding, the Families First act:

n Ensures free testing for the coronavirus so cost is not a barrier to necessary testing, especially for the uninsured;

n Establishes an emergency paid leave program;

n Provides more than $1 billion to strengthen nutrition assistance for low-income mothers, children and seniors;

n Provides states with fiscal relief under Medicaid;

n Provides funding to states to improve unemployment insurance programs so they can benefits to workers who are laid off or furloughed.

The bill was the second funding package passed by Congress in response to coronavirus. Oregon last week was awarded $7.2 million to support the state’s effort to help contain and fight the spread of COVID-19. That funding was in addition to an initial $500,000 that the state received at the beginning of the month.

For more information about NorthWest Senior and Disability Services in Yamhill County, call the McMinnville office at 503-472-9441, or call the toll-free number at 866-333-7218.


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