Managing Meals During the Coronavirus Crisis

Part of: Member Ideas and Inspirations: Coronavirus

LeadingAge members are adapting to social distancing-forced change to meals delivery.

The Challenge: Delivery of meals cannot stop, even if we must minimize human physical contact. Providers that offer communal dining services must switch to home or apartment delivery, and community-based meal delivery becomes even more difficult.

Member Story #9: Meals Delivery, Grab-and-Go, and Grocery Delivery for Residents
Member Story #8: A Partnership to Ensure Food for Affordable Housing Residents
Member Story #7: Staff Stepping Up to Ensure Passover Meal Deliveries
Member Story #6: Pop-Up Groceries Allow Residents to Stay Home
Member Story #5: In-House Grocery, Frozen Meal Services Instituted
Member Story #4: National Perspective From Food Service Provider
Member Story #3: A Large Meals Program Ramps Up Dramatically
Member Story #2: Provider Innovates in Face of Multiple Challenges
Member Story #1: Independent Living Meals Delivery Schedule Changes


Member Story #9: Meals Delivery, Grab-and-Go, and Grocery Delivery for Residents

“We had to quickly flip the switch from restaurant dining to an all-delivery service, for 800 residents,” says Ralf Brabandt, COO of Mary’s Woods, Lake Oswego, OR. “With the help of our staff, we created lunch and dinner menus, focusing on healthy [food] and variety. We had to make sure the menu was designed to serve volume, and that we have enough time slots.”

Mary’s Woods decided to keep its grab-and-go meal service open, in 2 social lounges, while requiring social distancing. Working with food-service partners, Mary’s Woods now offers “food packs” for delivery to residents who want to avoid going out to grocery stores. Residents can choose between customizable fruit packs, veggie packs, and snack boxes, for next-day delivery.

A “wine store” program delivers glasses of wine or cider, door-to-door, for residents.

Member Story #8: A Partnership to Ensure Food for Affordable Housing Residents

Sequoia Living, San Francisco, CA, is partnering with Morrison Living to ensure that low-income seniors in its affordable housing communities have enough to eat.

A free box of healthy groceries is delivered every week—for the duration of the shelter-in-place order—to 550 low-income seniors living in Eastern Park Apartments and Western Park Apartments in San Francisco, and Town Park Towers in San Jose.

The deliveries began March 30. Morrison Living gathers the food, resident volunteers from 2 Sequoia Living life plan communities pack the boxes, and the affordable housing staff deliver them. The deliveries are funded by the organization’s residents, their families, board members, staff, and Morrison Living.

Member Story #7: Staff Stepping Up to Ensure Passover Meal Deliveries

The Jewish Home Family, based in Rockleigh, NJ, is adapting its food-service practices to cope with the coronavirus.

This year’s orders for hot meals during Passover, which the organization supplies for older residents in the surrounding community, are higher than ever. Meal-delivery protocols have changed; meals are to be delivered “drop-and-go” rather than carried into recipients’ homes. Some volunteers are uncomfortable delivering meals, but employees have stepped up and will make certain that all those meals get to the elders in need.

Chris Pableo, director of home care, made a grocery run for a client who keeps kosher strictly. He made a special trip to the kosher market and spent more than 2 hours, phone glued to his ear, to get her the exact products she wanted.

Member Story #6: Pop-Up Groceries Allow Residents to Stay Home

Orlando-based Westminster Communities of Florida is creating pop-up grocery stores on-site so that residents can get staples without having to venture out to grocery stores.

Communal dining has been replaced by a delivery program, providing refrigerated, reheatable meals delivered to residents’ doors. Even so, residents want to be able to buy bread, milk, coffee, toilet paper, and other items as needed.

The pop-up groceries are located in common areas that are no longer in use for group activities, and are tied into the common point of sale system. Groceries can be paid for using credit cards, or charged to residents’ monthly bills via their key fobs. All the items are from a standard basket of items that Westminster Communities can keep in stock. The organization is working with U.S. Foods to identify and source the items. Adjustments to the inventory can be made when demand trends become clearer.

The service will also be offered to staff.

Member Story #5: In-House Grocery, Frozen Meal Services Instituted

Vinson Hall Retirement Community, McLean, VA, has created an email ordering system so residents can order meals the day of or well in advance.

One of Vinson Hall’s dining venues has been turned into a grocery shop, where residents can call in and place their orders daily; a team member fills the orders and takes it to the residents.

Residents can now order gourmet frozen meals. They receive a menu with which they can select entrees and vegetables, and order a once-per-week supply of gourmet meals cooked, vacuum-sealed, and frozen.

Member Story #4: National Perspective From Food Service Provider

Morrison Living, which provides food services for more than 475 retirement communities, reports that dining staff have faced new challenges, due to the shutdown of communal dining areas across the country.

LeadingAge asked Barbara Conn, CEO of Morrison Living, to comment on trends she has seen in food services during the coronavirus crisis.

“The biggest change was to stop communal dining, so we had to operationalize how to deliver food to residents in rooms and apartments,” Conn says. “Part of it is redoing menus, [changing] vessels, holding temperatures, etc. A lot went into the culinary matters.”

Switching to disposable food service containers became a challenge. As part of Compass Group, Morrison has access to supplies that would otherwise have been used in schools and universities.

Conn notes that there have been shortages in some foods, but the company has mapped out substitutes for those items. It is also working to secure PPE supplies.

Dining staff is helping keep residents socially connected. Small note cards are placed with food deliveries, including jokes, puzzles, or uplifting sayings.

One cook and his family created 70 flower arrangements for residents, and his nieces and nephews wrote handwritten cards.

Some communities delivered “Quarantinis”—green cocktails—on St. Patrick’s Day.

Grab-and-go packaged meals are being offered in some communities.

“One of the biggest challenges is staffing,” Conn says. “In pockets like New York, we are seeing our associates begin to be impacted. Where Compass Group’s K-12 and higher education have shut down, we’ve been able to have those associates come to us.”

Grocery delivery services, particularly for independent living residents, have been instituted. Groceries are dropped in baskets at the door. In some places, farmers’ markets have been set up, allowing customers in one at a time.

Member Story #3: A Large Meals Program Ramps Up Dramatically

Serving Seniors, a member in San Diego, CA, is devoted to older adults living in poverty. Services include:

  • Low-income affordable housing in 3 buildings, including a transitional housing program to help homeless seniors get off the streets.
  • A very large meals program that serves congregate meals at 11 sites along with home-delivered meals.
  • A variety of health and social services such as case management, mental health services, health education, and dental care coordination in its wellness center.

The coronavirus crisis has forced dramatic changes.

“Right now we’re focused on the fundamentals—getting meals out,” says Paul Downey, president and CEO of Serving Seniors.

The organization normally serves several thousand people in its congregate meal settings, but as of March 12, was ordered to shut down those sites immediately.

“Eighty-five percent of the people we serve are below the federal poverty level,” Downey says. “Just closing doesn’t work. So, overnight on Thursday [March 12] we had to retool to do to-go meals out of the congregate sites, and transition to home delivery.”

It has been all hands on deck, Downey adds. Case managers, activities people, and other staff have become home meal deliverers. Daily home deliveries, numbering 800 a week ago, were up to 1,500 during the week of March 16, and Downey estimates they will approach 6,000 per day (the capacity of Serving Seniors’ kitchens) by March 27.

For efficiency, food delivery orders are getting larger: 7 days of food in 1 or 2 deliveries per week, in contrast to the usual 7 days’ worth in 5 deliveries.

Normally a driver might go into a client’s unit, but social distancing rules require arms-length delivery with no personal contact. All drivers must be gowned, gloved, and masked.

It’s a scramble to secure enough personal protective equipment. The organization’s dental clinic has had to shut down, so there is access to those masks. Downey says one employee is spending most of her time on “mask duty.” He also reports recently paying up to $5 per mask in a recent order, for masks that normally sell for less than 10% of that amount.

Takeaway: “We are stretching our resources to the max because we’re operating in do-whatever-it-takes mode. We can’t sustain that indefinitely. We’re doing appeals to supporters in the community, for cash donations.”

“I think of this as building an airplane in flight,” Downey says.

Member Story #2: Provider Innovates in Face of Multiple Challenges

The ACCA Bentley Center for Adult Day Health in Athens, GA, provides many community services in northern and eastern Georgia.

The coronavirus pandemic has closed down ACCA’s 2 adult day health centers, but the organization is continuing to offer services, especially meals.

Robin Lacrimosa, adult day health director, says ACCA’s food vendor is freezing the congregate meals for easier delivery. A mobile food pantry, normally in place once per month, now operates 3 times per week, and has been opened up to anyone age 60 and above. Visitors drive through, pop the trunk, and the food is delivered with minimal contact.

“Our agency [staff] is now in 2 teams,” Lacrimosa says. “Each team works one day at home, then one day in the building. We communicate only on the phone.”

Sororities at the nearby University of Georgia have donated large amounts of perishable food.

Meals on Wheels drivers leave food bags on the doorstep, knock, step back, and make sure the food is taken in by residents.

Lacrimosa says the situation is stressful for staff, and a few have health-compromised family members. “We are doing social distancing, people don’t get out of their cars at the drive-through, and we’re dropping meals off at the doors. Everyone is stressed about what will happen long-term. No one’s job is in jeopardy if they have to stay home, she adds. Home-bound employees can be put to work calling clients.

Takeaway: Our mottos are ‘No senior left behind,’ and ‘No paycheck unpaid for as long as we can.’”

Member Story #1: Independent Living Meals Delivery Schedule Changes

At Crown Center for Senior Living, an independent living community in suburban St. Louis, MO, all office staff is working at home, with only maintenance and meal preparation and delivery staff in the building.

“There’s been a big push in the St. Louis Jewish community to ensure seniors are getting the resources they need,” says Randi Schenberg, community relations director.

To observe social distancing, the meal program, now all-delivery, has been reduced from 5 to 2 days per week—2 meals on Mondays and 3 on Wednesdays. Crown has its own kosher meals on wheels program, and some kosher meals are produced under arrangement with a local kosher catering company.

Meal deliverers now knock at the door, put the bag down, then step back. Recipients must be in their apartments when meals are delivered.

Visit our COVID-19 resources section for more resources.

LeadingAge wants to hear from you! Tell us stories of how your organization is adapting and innovating to manage with the coronavirus crisis. We are looking for stories about: staff management, worker welfare, and recruitment; childcare; care and services for residents and clients; personal protective equipment (PPE); communication; food services; advocacy; resident engagement; and more.

Contact Gene Mitchell at or 202-508-9424.