EVEN BEFORE the coronavirus gripped the nation, many senior citizens were already having a difficult time getting food. Unfortunately, Covid 19 resulted in greater challenges for this vulnerable population as congregate nutrition sites closed and caretakers and family members had to distance themselves in order to safeguard the health of the elderly.
Ocean County's home delivered meals program has been answering the nutritional and social needs of the homebound elderly prior to the virus and throughout the pandemic. And now with additional funding, Ocean County is providing another 400 seniors with home delivered meals, according to Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari.
In response to the number of people requesting this service, the State through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act provided the County with an additional $475,000 for home delivered meals.
"We immediately put this money to good use," said Vicari, who is Chairman of Senior Services. "This money will help us provide more than 35,000 additional meals to our homebound seniors.
"Our home delivered meals serve as a lifeline to thousands of our seniors who live alone, but now especially during this pandemic this service has been paramount," he said.
The additional funding was distributed to Lakewood Community Services Corp. to meet the increased demand for kosher home delivered meals and to Community Services Inc. the county's largest home delivered meal provider.
"The funds are specifically for food to meet the increase in demand for home delivered meals that is the result of self-isolating, loss of community supports and caregivers and congregate site closings," Vicari said. "Before the coronavirus, 1,100 home delivered meals were being provided daily to seniors in Ocean County."
Once congregate nutrition sites were closed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Community Services Inc. with help from the Ocean County Office of Senior Services surveyed the participants to determine whether they needed to receive food at home during this time.
"It was clear there was a growing trend that we needed to immediately address," Vicari said. "No senior in Ocean County will go hungry. This service is imperative to keep our seniors out of nursing homes and living independently."
Vicari noted that the men and women delivering meals serve as a lifeline for many of Ocean County's seniors.
"They are there every day and can detect if the senior is having a problem with their health or other matters," Vicari said. "We extend our deepest appreciation to all of these workers who are not only delivering a meal, they are bringing it with compassion and care."
Vicari noted that the Ocean County Office of Senior Services continues to make every effort to assure seniors are being assisted throughout this pandemic.
"We are grateful to our county office on aging partners who are working tirelessly to help support older residents' needs at this challenging time. We are moving quickly to provide this funding so that counties are able to help seniors get the food they need," said New Jersey Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson.
Vicari noted that Ocean County has taken many steps to protect seniors during the pandemic.
By mid-April, the county joined with numerous partners from state, county, municipal and community organizations, to help with the food shopping needs of elderly residents to reduce exposure to the virus. The program is open to any Ocean County resident age 60 and older.
"While many major food stores had set aside hours for our seniors to shop, panic shopping had left many store shelves empty requiring this susceptible population to venture out several times a week for much needed food and supplies," Vicari said. "This new collaboration met the needs of 180 of our seniors who were able to have their food shopping done for them so they didn't have to venture out of their home during the state's stay at home orders."
The Ocean County Office of Senior Services partnered with Jersey Cares, the state Department of Human Services, Division on Aging Services, Toms River Township Senior Center and Outreach, Brick Township Senior Center & Outreach, Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey, Jackson Township Senior Center, Berkeley Township Senior Outreach, Manchester Township Senior Outreach and St. Francis Senior Center & Outreach on Long Beach Island in providing food-shopping services.
Vicari also noted the generosity of Ocean County residents, businesses and other organizations when the request went out to help seniors who needed household and hygiene products.
With assistance from Causeway Family of Dealerships in Stafford Township and Lester Glenn Auto Group in Toms River, Community Services Inc., Ocean County's senior meal provider and the Ocean County Office of Senior Services collected everyday items for seniors receiving meals under the county's home delivered meals program.
The items donated and distributed included toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and soap.
"I deeply appreciate the ongoing efforts of so many people in our communities to help those that are frail and most vulnerable," Vicari said. "So many have risen to the occasion and helped out. These efforts have been very helpful during this difficult time."
Vicari noted that seniors should continue to contact the Ocean County Office of Senior Services at 732-929-2091 if they need assistance.
"We have all worked together to follow the state and federal mandates during the pandemic, through social distancing, wearing masks and other steps, and while this crises is not over, we are seeing things get better and everyone has helped make that happen," Vicari said.