National Nutrition Month Highlight: Meal Delivery Keeps Santa Clara County Seniors Connected During Pandemic
County officials highlight the increasing need for senior meal services during and after the COVID-19 crisis
SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF.— One of the County of Santa Clara’s flagship programs for seniors became a key pandemic resource when the spread of COVID-19 halted communal activities over the past two years. The County’s Senior Nutrition Program (SNP), which has been in operation for more than 45 years, was reinvented to deliver a growing number of meals to the area’s aging adults and became a key touch point with a population that faced increasing isolation during the shelter-in-place. In all, since the start of the pandemic, the senior café program expanded by more than 40%, even as donations and contributions slowed.
“We serve some of the most at-risk seniors in our area who face great social and economic need,” said Mary Ann Warren, Director of the County of Santa Clara’s Department of Aging and Adult Services. “When the pandemic hit, we knew many of our clients would be disproportionately impacted and that we would need to adapt quickly to make sure they got the help they needed during this time.”
To meet the changing needs during the pandemic, the County’s dine-in/café program – which provides meals, socialization, and support services in a group setting – was modified to offer take-out and home-delivered meals. Hot meals were transitioned to frozen meals with supplemental groceries, and the radius for meal deliveries were expanded to include assisted living facilities. The deliveries became critical safety and socialization check-ins for vulnerable older adults, and a call center was established to answer questions and to connect older adults with resources.
From July 2020 to July 2021, during the height of the pandemic, the SNP served nearly 1.2 million meals. Over the past several years, the demand for the congregate meal program has grown by about 20% each year, and the need is expected to continue growing. The aging community in Santa Clara County is increasing rapidly and becoming more diverse. Of the SNP’s 12,700 clients:
Nearly half live at or below poverty level
More than half are age 75 and older
Two out of every three are minorities
One out of every three live alone
One of the most enduring SNP clients is John Kolb, a 100-year-old resident who began picking up meals at the Mountain View Senior Center 15 years ago after his wife died. “It’s a place to get a square meal that I don’t have to prepare myself at my tender age,” he said, adding that it is how he remains connected to others. “It has been a place for me to go and associate with people. I like to fraternize with people. I love it so much.”
For National Nutrition Month in March, County staff are highlighting the increasing need for senior meal services for people like John. Today, March 9, is also Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day, which celebrates the food and nutrition experts who work on programs such as SNP to help improve the health of their community.
“As the number of aging adults in our county continues to grow, programs and services for their physical and emotional wellbeing will become increasingly important, and our Registered Dietitian staff are a critical part of this mission,” said Vanessa Merlano, Senior Nutrition Program Manager for the County of Santa Clara. “As we celebrate National Nutrition Month and the work of SNP, we also want to highlight the community support needed to continue these programs to take care of our most vulnerable residents.”
For the latest information on the Senior Nutrition Program, visit the Social Service Agency’s website. This map of SNP locations lists where we offer take-out, delivery, and dine-in options throughout Santa Clara County. Those with questions can also call 408-755-7680. To volunteer or contribute to the Senior Nutrition Program, visit one of the many SNP locations in our county.
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ABOUT THE COUNTY OF SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA
The County of Santa Clara government serves a diverse, multi-cultural population of 1.9 million residents in Santa Clara County, California, making it more populous than 14 states in the U.S. The County provides essential services to its residents, including public health protection, environmental stewardship, medical services through the County of Santa Clara Health System, child and adult protection services, homelessness prevention and solutions, roads, park services, libraries, emergency response to disasters, protection of minority communities and those under threat, access to a fair criminal justice system, and many other public benefits.