ROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times
Last week, due to some of its staff testing positive for COVID-19, the Liberal Senior Center was closed for about two weeks while that staff quarantines.
The move to close the center left some activities on hold, such as the annual Thanksgiving meal, which was scheduled for Monday evening.
The move likewise shut the center’s Meals on Wheels program down for that period, leaving homebound seniors without their daily meals from the center.
Upon hearing the news, Liberal Area Coalition for Families Director Sarah Mersdorf-Foreman called Stepping Stone Shelter Director Bambi Fulton to see about getting meals to the seniors.
“We knew the senior center had shut down, and we were thinking the same thing,” Fulton said. “What were they going to do for meals? Not long after that, I got a call from Sarah to see if we could step in and help take care of the meals for the seniors for the Meals on Wheels program.”
Mersdorf-Foreman said an adult child of a Meals on Wheels recipient called LACF, and this set the process in motion to begin getting food to seniors.
“They just Googled organizations in Liberal and said she was worried about her mom not getting meals, not having a Thanksgiving meal,” she said. “I thought if there’s one, there’s got to be more who have the same concern. When I called Bambi and presented her with it, without hesitation, she was like, ‘Yeah, we’ll do it.’”
The senior center has more than 40 Meals on Wheels recipients in its program, and both Mersdorf-Foreman and Fulton said getting food to those seniors is a team effort.
“Bambi and her staff make all the meals in addition to what they’re making already every day,” Mersdorf-Foreman said. “The coalition staff, we have four delivering every day, two drivers and one to help get the meals out.”
“They’re doing the transportation, and we’re doing the cooking,” Fulton said.
For Fulton, she had to look no further than her own grandmother, who is a Meals on Wheels recipients in her town.
“She depends on those,” she said. “She can cook and get around, but not to do that every day for lunch.”
Fulton said Stepping Stone also provides meals through its soup kitchen and the Thanksgiving dinner, but for some, making the trip to the shelter is not an option.
“Not everybody can get there,” she said.
So to be able to help provide Meals on Wheels, Fulton said, is both an honor and blessing for her and her staff.
“We were familiar with it from the COVID stuff,” she said. “It was easy for us to throw together quite quick. It’s a huge blessing to us to be able to kick out the meals.”
Mersdorf-Foreman said with Stepping Stone and LACF working together through the pandemic, she too felt the process would be an easy one.
“They cooked the food, and our team delivered it,” she said. “We already had a blueprint of sorts. I think of my own family, and if I wasn’t able to be around them or have the resources to get to them, I would want to make sure they were taken care of.”
The plan for the shelter and coalition to bring meals to seniors started Monday and will run through Dec. 3. The food seniors get, though, is a little different than what is normally delivered through Meals on Wheels.
“We don’t follow the senior plan,” Fulton said. “This was kind of spur of the moment. We have our own stuff. Today, they got spaghetti with green beans, fruit and a roll. We make sure they’re fed pretty well.”
Fulton said cooking begins at 7 a.m. to make sure food is ready for delivery by 11 a.m.
“We’re cooking anyways,” she said. “We just don’t normally do our cooking until later. It’s a help for my afternoon guy. He doesn’t have to cook dinner now.”
The amount of food seniors get is also something different.
“We like to give huge portions at the shelter, and those seniors, they’re probably not used to that,” Fulton said. “They eat like birds most of the time, but they can make it last a couple meals.”
With a Thanksgiving dinner in the works, along with a daily soup kitchen, a Christmas meal and getting the shelter moved to a new location, taking on the task of feeding homebound seniors may seem like a lot to ask, but Fulton said both Stepping Stone and LACF were happy to help.
“When we take on these jobs, that’s what we sign up to do – to step in and fill the gap where other people can’t,” she said. “We’re all up early anyway. We have kids, and we’re getting them ready for school. It is a lot of cooking we’re doing this week, but it’s really easy because we’re fitting the seniors into that, and we’re cooking a little bit earlier. It’s super easy for us to be able to do. This is my staff’s first time dealing with it. They weren’t here during COVID, so it kind of freaked them out, but we went through it really smoothly. I think we made entirely too many meals today.”