Senior citizens in Pinellas and Pasco may soon have low-sodium Chinese food delivered right to their doorstep.
The Area Agency on Aging of Pinellas-Pasco “Dining Out at Home” program plans to connect seniors staying at home because of the coronavirus with freshly cooked meals from local restaurants.
Agency Executive Director Ann Marie Winters said the program will kill two birds with one stone by providing healthy meals for seniors while ensuring business for local restaurants struggling with the effects of the pandemic.
“We're just seeing a real need for seniors to get food, and on the other side, a real need for restaurants to be able to keep their doors open. So we thought this was a real interesting way that we could help many more seniors and our local economy,” said Winters. “For us, it was a real win-win.”
Restaurants that partner with the agency will be paid per meal. Winters hopes that will help businesses keep the doors open and continue paying their employees.
As social-distancing orders from the state and federal officials became more restrictive, the Area Agency on Aging had to close all community dining centers usually open to elderly residents unable to cook for themselves or requiring reduced price meals.
To address the problem, the Florida Department of Elder Affairs partnered with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association to persuade state officials to classify restaurants as emergency meal vendors for the state's seniors.
“By working together, our agencies will be able to ensure all of our 5.5 million seniors have safe access to food,” said Richard Prudom, Secretary for the Florida Department of Elder Affairs.
“We are in constant communication with seniors and our senior-care providers around the state and we know this action will greatly increase the flexibility of our communities to access meal delivery.”
The Department of Elder Affairs hopes to implement programs similar to the “Dining Out at Home” initiative through all 11 of its Area Agencies on Aging.
Winters notes that given the emergency nature of the project, the agency still needs to finalize details on the partnership and figure out delivery systems.
“The restaurants are going to be having to tailor their menus just a little bit in order to ensure that seniors can have fresh, nutritious and healthy meals that aren't going to further exacerbate any health issues they have,” said Winters.
That means partnered restaurant will have to create gluten-free, no salt, and no sugar options.
Winters said that Meals on Wheels, a program overseen by the Area Agency on Aging, will be the main method of distribution, but due to a shortage of volunteer drivers, delivery schedules need to be worked out.
Still, Winters said she hopes to have the program up and running by next week.
“We're nimble and quick,” said Winters. “ we have to respond to the needs of the seniors. They can't wait for food.”
Seniors requiring meal delivery and restaurants that want to participate are encouraged to call the Area Agency on Aging for Pinellas – Pasco by phone: (727) 570-9696 or through their website.
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