By Madeleine Graham
The Genesee County Community Action Resource Department (GCCARD) temporarily closed Monday through Wednesday last week for sterilization due to a possible Covid-19 exposure, but beginning today —Thursday, April 9 — some instituted changes will allow operations to continue, according to Matthew Purcell, GCCARD executive director.
GCCARD manages a large food distribution network, with 20 to 25 drivers delivering 3,000 meals to 1,100 seniors per day.
“It is a large-scale operation that operates Monday through Friday with two meals every day,” Purcell said. The meals accommodate diabetics, renal considerations, vegetarian, and kosher needs.
Purcell said when the department temporarily closed last week after a possible Covid-19 exposure, no individuals showed any symptoms but that GCCARD “erred on the side of caution” and decided to close for several days. Beginning today, the agency renewed food distribution after instituting some changes.
The changes included a full sterilization of the site by a professional company with a thorough wipe down and more stringent operations in the kitchen, including even more intense emphasis on hand washing than usual, Purcell said.
Because of the possible exposure, there was a 14-day window where some staff quarantined or were self monitoring, he said.
Additionally, employees are screened by having their temperature taken before coming into the building to show that no one is showing any active signs. Purcell emphasized there already are kitchen routines in place, but staff are being even more vigilant.
Social distancing is also being exercised, he said. Another change is the restriction of access to the site as food is taken out to the garage area.
“I just want to assure individuals that we are taking precautions and care to protect the seniors, the staff and volunteers involved in this process to the extent possible. We can’t guarantee no exposure, but we do our best to limit it and protect our individuals,” he said.
“Everybody I know is wearing masks,” Purcell said. Gloves are optional for staff except for the kitchen staff, but noted, “One has to change behavior to reduce the spread.”
“One of the divisions we oversee is our Meals on Wheels or Senior Nutrition Program, explained Purcell. “We provide 3,000 meals a day, (covering) all of Genesee County,”
Two sources of funding support GCCARD’s efforts: the Valley Area Agency on Aging (VAAA) funded by the federal government; and the senior millage from Genesee County taxpayers.
The program is aged-based, for those 60 years old or older. A determination for qualification is done by the Valley Area Agency on Aging or the Alzheimer’s Association to determine eligibility of home delivered meals or what are called congregate meals, Purcell explained.
However, because of the coronavirus, GCCARD has had to curtail congregate meals. where GCCARD delivers to able-bodied recipients in senior centers. Recipients still can get food to go, he said.
“The home delivered meals require you to be a home-bound senior and demonstrate an inability to go grocery shopping or an inability to prepare meals on your own,” Purcell said. Any senior interested in the service would contact either of the two organizations — the Valley Area Agency on Aging or the Alzheimer’s Association. Once an eligibility determination is completed, a referral is made and the meal program can begin.
Because of the coronavirus, GCCARD has experienced a decline in its workforce, Purcell said. “Currently we are receiving volunteers through the United Way and the Office of Emergency Management,” he said.
There is no funding for stipends for volunteers. However, Purcell expressed the hope that in the future there would be a mileage stipend and perhaps a peer program with seniors delivering to seniors.
The service is free, but there is a strong effort to encourage donations of one or two dollars for the meals, stated Purcell.
To seek a referral contact: The Valley Area Agency on Aging at (810)239-7671 or the Alzheimer’s Association at (810) 780-4163.
To volunteer to deliver meals (810) 232-2185. Note this number does not make referrals. The above VAAA and Alzheimer’s numbers must be contacted for that purpose.
EVM Staff Writer Madeleine Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.