Since April, Council on Aging (COA) has been partnering with local restaurants, including LaRosa’s Pizzeria, Taste of Belgium, Frisch’s and La Soupe, to provide “comfort meals” to area older adults living in low-income senior apartment buildings. In July, COA expanded the comfort meal program to include local minority-owned restaurants.
“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 we’re focused on providing food, we also want to bring comfort to older adults and let them know they are not forgotten. We hope a special meal from a local restaurant is a welcome change of pace for older adults who are experiencing the effects of social isolation.”
In June, as attention shifted away from the pandemic to the demonstrations taking place across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death, COA searched for opportunities to be more inclusive in its comfort meal program by engaging small, African American owned businesses the program.
In a statement to COA staff, Burke said COA would “take steps to make our network more inclusive by continuing to build new partnerships…Through these partnerships, it is my hope that we will lift up not only the individuals we serve, but also help African American owned businesses build capacity and expand their footprint in our community.”
In July, C&M BBQ Grille and Chef Anthony Jordan joined COA’s comfort meal program, providing barbeque, grilled chicken, greens, potato salad, meatloaf and more to seniors in Hamilton County.
Cecil and Mary Solomon – the C and M of C&M BBQ Grille – are no strangers to serving older adults in the community. For 7 years, Cecil Soloman has been a driver for Cincinnati Area Senior Services (CASS), taking older adults to the grocery store and on organized social excursions. These trips ended with the start of the pandemic and Soloman knows how much older adults rely on these services to stay independent.
“This is personal for me,” Solomon said. “When the [Hamilton County Senior Services] levy was up, I went and spoke up about how much its needed. Seniors are vulnerable. I’m a heartbeat away from having someone drive me!”
Participating in COA’s meal program has been a blessing, Solomon said. He has not been driving for CASS since the pandemic started, but that means he has time to help Mary in the kitchen preparing extra meals for COA.
“We’re the dynamic duo,” Solomon joked. “Mary’s the energizer bunny – she keeps going and going and going. But I’m like a Timex watch – I take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’!”
For Chef Anthony Jordan, COA’s meal program is an opportunity to “stand in the gap” and help older adults through the pandemic.
A Certified Personal Chef, Jordan has led cooking classes for older adults and children through the Cincinnati Recreation Commission, Center for Closing the Health Gap and Cincinnati State University.
With a focus on health conscious and diet-specific meal planning, Chef Anthony wanted to provide fresh, healthy alternatives to traditional comfort food – macaroni and cheese made with whole wheat noodles and homemade cheese sauce; meatloaf prepared with lean ground turkey; and burrito bowls packed with power greens, grilled chicken and roasted vegetables.
“For me personally, this connection and collaboration with COA is huge,” Jordan said. “These are our people, our elders. COA stands in the gap [to help older adults] and I want to emulate that.”
COA’s comfort meal program is a community partnership. The meals are paid for by COA – via federal funds to expand meal service to older adults during the pandemic – and COA service providers, including Meals on Wheels SWO & NKY and CASS, collect the meals from each restaurant and deliver them to senior apartment buildings across COA’s service area. Service coordinators, staff and volunteers at each building then distribute the meals to residents. Since April, nearly 15,000 comfort meals have arrived at the doors of seniors in need.
Older adults who need help during this time should contact Council on Aging at (513) 721-1025.