COA's pandemic comfort meal program receives disaster preparedness innovation award

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Council on Aging (COA) has received national recognition for an innovative program that addresses food insecurity and social isolation among older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic.  In May, COA received an Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) Innovation Award in the category of Disaster Preparedness for its COVID-19 Comfort Meal Program. COA has provided more than 84,000 meals to low-income older adults through this program since the start of the pandemic.

The AIRS awards recognize programs and organizations for innovation in five categories that align with the AIRS standards: Service Delivery, Resource Database, Cooperative Relationships, Disaster Preparedness and Operational Effectiveness. The Innovation Award, given to COA in the Disaster Preparedness category, recognizes COA’s comfort meal program and the important need it fills in the community.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, COA has provided meals that address not only food insecurity, but also the quality of life experienced by older adults during the pandemic. Because many older adults have been unable to leave their homes, they feel forgotten and isolated.

“We’ve learned from past emergency situations that food quickly becomes an urgent need for older adults,” said Council on Aging CEO, Suzanne Burke. “While food has been a focus for us during the pandemic, we also wanted to bring comfort to older adults and let them know they are not forgotten.”

To help ease the monotony felt by many older adults, COA sought out partnerships with local restaurants and service providers to deliver special meals to older adults - particularly low-income older adults isolated in senior apartment buildings in parts of COA’s service area.

“Most residents are scared because of COVID-19,” said a local apartment manager. “This is a wonderful treat for them.”

While the program’s primary focus is low-income older adults, the program also provided a boost to COA’s local economy at a critical time. The restaurant industry was hit hard by pandemic-related shutdowns and limitations to dine-in service. Meals purchased by COA helped restaurants keep their doors open – and their staff at work.

“This is an opportunity for us to bring some people back to work and keep the lights on at our commissary,” said a local restaurant owner. “But more importantly, it’s an opportunity to give back and be part of something good that’s happening in our community.”

COA’s Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) staff are certified by AIRS, a professional credentialing organization for individuals working within the Information and Referral sector of human services. Annually, COA receives nearly 50,000 requests for information and referral via its call center and website.

More About COA’s Comfort Meal Program
COA’s comfort meal program is a community partnership. The meals are paid for by COA – via grants, donations and federal funds designated to expand meal service to older adults during the pandemic*. The program partners with ten local restaurants (five of them minority owned) including LaRosa’s Pizzerias, Frisch’s, Taste of Belgium, C&M BBQ Grille, Chef Anthony Jordan, La Soupe, Big Jay’s Place, Neal’s Famous BBQ, Beaugard’s Southern Bar B Que and Quatman Café. 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.

This is not the first time COA’s comfort meal program has been recognized. It received the Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging’s 2020 Outstanding AAA Partnership of the Year award, and a Clinton County Community Champions (C4) Award.

*Hamilton County CARES Act funds support COA's Comfort Meal Program.

About the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems
The Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) is the professional membership association for community Information and Referral (I&R). AIRS is the driving force behind the delivery of quality I&R services and the sole source for standards, program accreditation and practitioner certification for the I&R sector.

About Council on Aging
Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio (COA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing quality of life for older adults, people with disabilities, their families and caregivers.  COA promotes choice, independence, dignity and well-being through a range of services that help people remain independent for as long as possible. 

COA is a state-designated Area Agency on Aging serving Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Hamilton and Warren counties. One call to COA links people to the wide variety of agencies, information and programs that serve older adults and people with disabilities.

Regional Headquarters: 175 Tri County Parkway, Cincinnati, OH 45246 | 513-721-1025 | 800-252-0155 | www.help4seniors.org