SJ county workers mobilize to safely keep seniors citizens fed

During a time when New Jersey’s seniors are more vulnerable than ever, Burlington, Camden and Gloucester County officials are working hard to keep them safe and fed as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Burlington County Meals on Wheels is operating normally within the guidelines set by state and local officials, according to Christine Gonnelli, assistant public information officer for the Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders. 

The organization is serving more than 400 fresh, home-delivered meals per day.  Its clients have responded to surveys, so Meals on Wheels can address their needs as it provides shelf-stable foods, wellness calls and correspondence to provide updates as details and plans unfold.

Gonnelli said drivers are healthy, but if they show any signs or symptoms of illness, they will be asked to stay at home and recuperate. Drivers handle sealed meals: Clients unlock their door when a driver arrives, and their meal is placed on a table inside the entrance so there is no airborne contamination. 

“We are still concerned for the general health and well-being of our clients at this time and are trying to maintain as much normalcy as possible,” Gonnelli said. “The county’s caterer, Colonial Village Catering and Special Events, is proactively taking steps to reinforce all safe food practices set forth by the Burlington County Health Department.

The Office on Aging director as well as a dietitian met with the Meals on Wheels caterer to ensure flexibility and the safety of client food. Drivers were instructed to let clients know that all sanitation rules are being followed. Meal delivery is five days a week but the county is prepared if a situation arises. 

“The clients are especially thankful that we are able to provide meals at this time and do it in a way that keeps all of us safe,” Gonnelli said.

The Camden County Division of Senior and Disabled Services is also keeping seniors fed and has launched a hotline. All residents enrolled in the Camden County Nutrition Program automatically began receiving home delivery of meals as of the week of March 16. Seniors in need of meals can call the division at (856) 374-MEAL to make immediate arrangements.

“If you are a senior and you cannot get to the store, if you cannot cook for yourself, whatever the reason, we will make arrangements to make sure that you have nutritious meals throughout this crisis,”  county Freeholder Carmen Rodriguez, liaison to the Division of Senior and Disabled Services, said in a March 19 statement.

Through the program, clients receive seven meals per week with drop-offs occuring one day a week per Camden County town. In addition to meals, the Camden County Freeholder Board is working to get any senior or disabled resident essential supplies when they call the County Citizen Relief Emergency Worker (CREW) hotline at (856) 858-3220. Help is also available for  picking up prescriptions, getting to medical appointments and other essential needs.

The Gloucester County Division of Senior Services and the Division of Human and Disability Services are partnering to serve 400 homebound seniors. Through the county’s Serv-A-Tray nutrition program, drivers deliver meals and check on homebound seniors daily. The program also serves the county’s blind and visually impaired population. 

“We’re very grateful for the opportunity to partner with Senior Services to deliver meals to our impaired seniors,” county Freeholder Jim Jefferson said in a county statement. “We are continuously checking in on all of our seniors to make sure they are staying safe and healthy during this time.”

The county’s Division of Senior Services and the Division of Human and Disability Services are restricting public access to their offices, but are still available to provide assistance. Seniors who are 60 or older with nutritional needs can call the Division of Senior Services at (856) 384-6900. Residents are encouraged to  call the Division of Human & Disability Services at (856) 856-6842 if they know someone under the age of 60 who is disabled and homebound.