In the midst of the pandemic, volunteers and staff at the Bella Vida senior center reached a milestone last week, surpassing 100,000 meals prepared and delivered locally since March.
“The seniors are the most vulnerable population during this pandemic and, fortunately, we have the capability to bring them the meals to their homes or through the drive-thru,” said Kevin MacDonald, the center’s executive director. “It helps avoid them going outside if they don’t want to and it keeps them safe as long as we can, with a fresh, wonderful meal each and every day, five days a week.”
Since Bella Vida opened in April 2019, the center’s been setting records in attendance and activities, but before it hit its one-year anniversary, it closed to the public March 13 amid the pandemic.
Nevertheless, staff and volunteers stepped in to expand the meal program, offering a contactless drive-thru lunch option, along with expanding their home-delivered meals operation for homebound seniors.
“It’s more than just a lunch, in the fact that we have our wonderful social work team behind us, and willing to assist seniors in crisis,” MacDonald added. “We take care of their food needs, we try to take care of their mental health needs with our social workers here for each of them, and also their learning needs with our virtual classes that are going on, so we’re trying to provide services for the whole person.”
Through the pandemic, the center has provided more than 1,100 meals per day to seniors in the SCV via both programs, with the help of Executive Chef Joanna Vallelunga, who leads her team of cooks and assistants with preparation beginning at 5:30 every morning.
“We are so proud of our volunteers and staff who continue to rise to the occasion to serve our community in this time of crisis,” board President Elizabeth Hopp said in a prepared statement.
“Once the pandemic hit, they just kept coming back to me and saying, ‘What can we do? How can we serve our community?’” MacDonald added. “The true blessing in all this is that the response from our staff and volunteers has been incredible. … It shows their dedication to our seniors.”
Both Hopp and MacDonald believe the SCV community as a whole has really stepped up to help through the pandemic, including city and county officials.
“To know that people have our back and that people support our seniors, it’s just wonderful to witness,” MacDonald added. “The 100,000 meals, it is an accomplishment for the Senior Center, but it’s also an accomplishment for all those who support us.”
With around 70 drivers assisting in delivering nearly 700 meals each day, the center still has an urgent need for more volunteer drivers to keep up with the pace and rapid growth to ensure each senior gets a meal.
Most volunteers deliver meals once a week, preferably on a long-term basis, while delivery shifts are 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. or noon to 3 p.m. any day Monday through Friday, according to program organizers.
Volunteers also must be at least 22 years old, with at least five years of driving experience, and will be trained to use the center’s vehicles.
“We’re going to be doing this for a long time, so though we hit the 100,000 mark … because we don’t know how long the pandemic will last, but we have to continue to serve,” MacDonald added.
For more information on the SCV Senior Center, visit scv-seniorcenter.org or call 661-259-9444. To volunteer, contact Robin Clough, volunteer coordinator, at [email protected] or by calling the center.