The comfort meal program is a COA partnership with area restaurants using food to help ease the monotony and isolation felt by many older adults during the pandemic. In the year since its beginning in April 2020, the comfort meal program has delivered more than 84,000 meals to low-income older adults living in senior apartment buildings.
Owner Jason Howard (everyone calls him “Big Jay”) is no stranger to owning a food business. He opened Big Jay’s Market and Deli in 2016, serving fresh deli sandwiches on croissants including a salad bar and small grocery in downtown Cincinnati.
After expanding from retail into catering, Howard and his wife, Samantha, opened their concept restaurant, Big Jay’s Place, in Finneytown. The small business celebrates his Caribbean heritage. Howard’s mother is from Antigua and his grandmother was from Trinidad.
Through cooking, Howard feels a strong connection with family. “I guess you could say it’s in my blood,” he says with a smile. “I grew up appreciating food’s seasonings and flavors. My grandmother owned a catering business. Actually, some of my current clients were clients of hers, too - even Council on Aging.”
His entire family is on board. It’s not unusual to see Howard’s wife commanding the register while his mother assembles salads and his cousin washes dishes. Big Jay’s daughters, Winter (8) and Jada (6), often hone their reading skills by calling out incoming Door Dash orders.
Big Jay’s Caribbean COVID-19 comfort meals include either penne pasta with a jerk alfredo sauce or a soul food plate with greens and mac and cheese. All meals are served with a tossed salad, packaged in microwaveable containers and come complete with a COVID seal indicating cleanliness and freshness.
More About COA’s Comfort Meal Program
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, COA began searching for ways to bring comfort to older adults who were feeling isolated, alone and forgotten. Today, COA’s comfort meal program includes 10 area restaurants – five of them minority-owned. In addition to Big Jay’s Place, restaurants include LaRosa’s, Taste of Belgium, Frisch’s, C&M BBQ Grille, Beaugard’s Southern Bar B Que, Quatman Café, Neal’s Famous BBQ, La Soupe and Chef Anthony Jordan.
The meals are paid for by COA – via grants, donations and federal funds designated to expand meal service to older adults during the pandemic. COA service providers collect the meals from participating restaurants and deliver them to low-income senior apartment buildings across COA’s service area. More than 84,000 meals have been delivered to the doors of older adults in need since the start of the comfort meal program in April 2020.