As 2020 have dragged on, many people are feeling the strain of prolonged isolation to protect family and community from COVID-19.
One group particularly affected is older adults, who are at higher risk for bad outcomes from a coronavirus infection, and may already face factors that restrict their community engagement, like physical limitations or driving constraints.
Mary Kenyon noticed a gap in meal services for older adults and founded a program in early 2020, before the pandemic really hit. Now, nine months later, that program — Valley Meals and More — has seen massive growth. What started with seven meals delivered twice a week, is now a five-day-a-week delivery service providing almost 90 meals per day.
By the end of 2020, Kenyon expects to have provided over 14,500 meals, delivered straight to the doors of participants (who must be over 60 years old) throughout unincorporated Garfield County and Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, and El Jebel. What sets the program apart from other food services in the community is that they are free, delivered, and the meals are fully prepared and ready to eat.
The program has raised over $225,000 this year with support from individuals, community foundations, government grants, and private grants. Both Garfield County and the Town of Carbondale are financial supporters. Prior to this program’s existence, free meals for older adults generally had to be picked up by the recipient at a central location, prohibitive for many would-be participants. Kenyon estimates there are about 3,600 residents eligible for this program.
More than 20 volunteers make the weekly delivery routes possible, and the program is always recruiting more. Kenyon hopes the program is also a win-win for local restaurants. Money she raises gets paid to restaurants who prepare the meals on behalf of Valley Meals and More.
The current line up of food providers includes Homestead Bar and Grill, Whole Foods, Rivers Restaurant, Slow Groovin’, The Village Smithy and Peppino’s Pizza. Other local restaurants that are sometimes involved include White House Pizza, Honey Butter and Jimmy John’s.
On the day the paper interviewed Kenyon, a snowy Friday morning, the day’s meal was being cooked by Homestead and consisted of Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, salad, and a fresh orange for dessert. Each restaurant prepares the meal and individually wraps servings so they are ready for a safe delivery. The program is able to accommodate common dietary restrictions.
In addition to providing warm, prepared meals, the program has provided other services on an as-needed basis, from grocery deliveries to rides to doctor’s appointments. Kenyon stressed that she sees her program as more than a warm meal.
“It’s not about the meals, it’s about the connection to the community. And that’s what we’ve really proven here.” Kenyon continued, “Some of these recipients, this is their one thing that happens every day. Otherwise, they’re by themselves.”
Valley Meals and More is also ferrying letters between older adults in the program and students at both Roaring Fork and Aspen high schools. That penpal exchange began with the Thanksgiving meal delivery.
Growth in the program has mostly occurred through word of mouth. Some participants call and sign up, others may get introduced by family members or neighbors. Occasionally a doctor’s office will refer someone who they are concerned isn’t getting proper nutrition.
Kenyon founded the program under the umbrella of Senior Matters in Carbondale. Due to the growth of the program and the desire to see it continue sustainably, she has embarked on the paperwork to establish the program as its own non-profit. She hopes that process will be complete in February of 2021.
For anyone interested in volunteering or supporting this work, or seeking to sign up or refer a friend, visit the program’s Facebook page, Valley Meals and More, or call 404-1193.