Adapting in order to continue providing food to seniors

(Posted June 4, 2020)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

Change-and-adapt has been the name of the game during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. That’s just what the Jeffersonian Senior Center in West Jefferson has done when it comes to distributing food to the county’s low-income senior citizens.

Since 2011, the center has served as Madison County’s representative agency for the federal government’s food commodity program benefitting people 60 and older who are food-compromised. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, the center distributed food boxes on the fourth Friday of each month. Customers received 30 pounds of shelf-stable food and a block of cheese.

With the pandemic, the center has made changes to limit exposures for customers and volunteers alike. Instead of a monthly distribution, organizers switched to giving out two months’ worth of food at a time. The first such distribution took place on March 27. The second took place on May 22.

In both cases, the center remained closed to the public. Normally, customers enter the building to pick up their food. Instead, organizers operated a drive-through distribution. Customers drove up to the building, and volunteers placed food in the trunks or back seats of their cars.

The volunteer set-up has been different, too. Normally, approximately 21 local volunteers man the distribution. In March and May, organizers limited the local volunteer participation to four people and relied on help from approximately 25 members of the Ohio National Guard.

“All of my volunteers are elderly and health compromised, so I didn’t want them down there,” said Virginia Miller, director.

The Mid Ohio Food Bank provides the food for the program. Miller talked to leaders there about her concern for her volunteers. The food bank made arrangements with the Ohio National Guard to provide manpower.

“The good thing about it was I had 25 good-looking guys helping out. I just had to figure out how I was going to feed them,” Miller said.

She found help through Tom Buscemi, owner of Ann & Tony’s Restaurant in West Jefferson, who supplied full meals for the guardsmen at both the March and May distributions.

“We would not have been able to do it without them,” Miller said of the Guard’s help. “We really can’t have our volunteers get out there and take a risk of bringing something home. Same with our clients. That’s why we’ve done the drive-through, so they drive up and right back out. It makes it better for everybody.”

In addition to the pickup in West Jefferson, the organizers arrange for a load of food to go to the Seton senior complex in London. The Madison County Senior Center sends a driver to make the transfer. This service has continued during the pandemic.

As for how the next distribution date will function, Miller said it will depend on the status of the pandemic at the time and any accompanying safety precautions.

“We’re hoping in July to get back to normal but, like everybody else, we don’t know,” she said.

The next distribution date is set for July 24. The Jeffersonian Senior Center is located at 28 E. Main St., West Jefferson, behind the village water department.

Any Madison County resident who is at least 60 years old and in need is welcome. All that is required to sign up is a photo ID and something, such as a utility bill, to show a current address. Participants will be asked to state their current income; no proof is required. Newcomers can sign up the day of the distribution.

Anyone who takes part in the food commodity program is still eligible to receive food at other food pantries.

“This is just a little extra that will help them,” Miller said.

The Jeffersonian Senior Center serves approximately 80 Madison County seniors through the food commodity program.

For more information, contact Virginia Miller at (614) 302-8883.

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