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Inside The Senior Alliance: Nutrition Programs (Meals-on-Wheels) During COVID (Ep 11)

Jason (00:00):

Welcome to episode 11 of Inside The Senior Alliance, a podcast exploring resources in the field of aging. I’m Jason Maciejewski, deputy executive director of The Senior Alliance, the Area Agency on Aging, serving Western and Southern Wayne county. Today I’m joined by three members of Wayne County Senior Services department in Wayne county, executive Warren Evans, his administration. Department director, Lisa Whitmore Davis, division director, Joan Siavrakas, and department manager, Maesha Hadden. Lisa, Joan, and Maesha. Welcome to Inside The Senior Alliance.

Lisa (00:29):

Thank you, Jason. It’s our pleasure to be here with you today.

Joan (00:32):

Thank you, Jason.

Maesha (00:33):

Good morning, Jason.

Jason (00:35):

Great. We’re really excited to have you on to talk about the nutrition programs. So in this episode, we’re going to talk about the nutrition programs that are funded by the Older Americans Act. These include home delivered meals, which are commonly referred to as Meals on Wheels, congregate meals, liquid nutrition, and our holiday meal program. These programs are authorized by the older Americans act and funding originates from the federal government and those dollars flow to the state. The state adds some funds to that pot of money and distributes dollars through a funding formula to the 16 Area Agencies on Aging in Michigan. Those area agencies on aging, then put out requests for proposals to vendors who operate the programs on a daily basis. So as the Area Agency on Aging for Southern and Western Wayne county, The Senior Alliance issues a request for proposal in our area every three years, Wayne county senior services has been the winning bidder in that process for our area for decades. At this point, Lisa let’s start with home delivered meals. The foundation of the nutrition programs. Tell us how the program operates on a day-to-day basis.

Lisa (01:34):

So prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, hot meals were delivered to the homebound seniors Monday through Friday from one of our 40 centers in 34 communities of Western Wayne county and downriver. Hot freshly prepared meals were delivered in bulk, where they were packaged in aluminum trays for delivery by our wonderful volunteers. Since March 2020, homebound clients have been receiving a five-pack frozen meal delivered on Mondays in response to making sure that our volunteers and staff and clients are safe in this COVID-19 pandemic. In early April of this year, we began a second day delivery on Thursdays with a frozen two-pack meal with fresh components, fresh fruit, milk, bread varieties. And that has really been a pleasant addition to the nutritional meals for our participants. Throughout the year, home delivered meal clients also receive shelf stabled five-pack meals for use in the event we’re unavailable, unable to deliver for any reason due to inclement weather, power outages, floods, et cetera. So we provide a holistic nutritional support through this Meals on Wheels program. And we’re really excited that we’re able to continue this safely, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Jason (03:04):

Lisa, thanks for that overview of the program. Another nutrition program option is the congregate meal program. Joan, how many sites are there offering congregant meals and how does it work? Both in non COVID times and currently?

Joan (03:17):

Congregate meal program when it was open, provided congregate meals from our 40 nutrition sites to anyone aged 60 or older, or the spouse of a client who was aged 60 or over and individuals with disabilities who are not older, but reside in housing facilities operated and occupied primarily by older individuals are also eligible. Of course, since the pandemic began in March of 2020, the congregate meal sites have been closed. Fortunately in early April of 2020, we instituted a congregate meal pick up where our congregate clients can reserve a meal and drive up or walk into the site and pick up their congregate meals. They received the same frozen meals as the home delivered meal participants. And it has been working extremely well. The congregate meals sites being closed, the congregate clients are still able to receive nutrition through this process.

Jason (04:19):

And do people need to preregister for congregate meals or can they just show up?

Joan (04:23):

Congregate participants are asked to fill out a participant form, which gets basic information, their name, address, and of course their date of birth to determine their age eligibility. If someone shows up and has not pre-registered and we have congregate meals available, we can provide them to them. We just request that they complete a participant form. So we are able to maintain the records of the clients and the meal.

Jason (04:49):

Okay. Thank you for that information. The liquid nutrition program is a little different because it is a monthly pickup. Maesha, how does that work?

Maesha (04:56):

The liquid nutrition. We’re able to provide liquid meals to a set like nutritional drinks, such as Ensure to the eligible senior citizens who are residing in our service area. To be eligible the participant has to have either an illness or medical condition that’s limiting the amount of solid foods that either he or she can consume on a daily basis. And they also have to have a completed medical authorization from their physician. We distribute the liquid nutrition from 13 different sites throughout Western Wayne county and down river on a monthly basis. This program is a donation-based service and we ask a suggested donation of $15 per case. Each participant is eligible to receive up to two cases of Ensure. They come in 24 bottles per case on a monthly basis.

Jason (05:42):

You mentioned that participants need a form to be completed. Do they get that form from their doctor or from the program itself?

Maesha (05:49):

We do an intake with each individual over the phone. And at that time we do obtain their physician’s information and we send a medical authorization form to their doctor. The doctor has to complete that form, authorizing that the nutritional drink is an appropriate product for the participant. That form is then sent back to our office and we would then notify the client that they had been approved and we’ll be able to start and notify them of the distribution time and date and location.

Jason (06:16):

We also offer a specialty meal program, halal meals. This program received national recognition when it was started. Wayne County Senior Services utilized the subcontractor for this program to prepare and distribute the meals. Lisa, how does this program operate?

Lisa (06:30):

We are really proud of our halal meal program. It provides culturally competent meals to eligible clients in the Dearborn area. This program was created to provide nutritional services to the underserved community requiring halal prepared meals. Halal meals are prepared and delivered by our contracted vendor, Country Chicken Restaurant in Dearborn. Fresh hot meals are delivered on Mondays and Thursdays to approximately 90 clients. What the special element of it is that it is halal prepared and it’s culturally competent with there not being a language barrier because that way, many of our elders who require halal prepared meals, only speak Arabic and the volunteers and the staff of Country Chicken that help us to implement this important program are bilingual in Arabic. And I think that’s important. It helps break down that isolation barrier in that community as well.

Jason (07:34):

I know that when I’ve been at conferences, various parts of the country, and we begin to talk about Meals on Wheels and different types of programs that we have when I mentioned that we have a halal program in our service area that always piques the interest of people that I’m talking to from across the country and how we pull that off in the work that you do at Wayne County Senior Services to offer that to residents in our area. So thank you for doing that. Joan, the state of Michigan has requirements for nutrition programs. Could you tell me about the standards that must be followed?

Joan (08:04):

The state of Michigan documents minimum standards for nutrition programs to be followed. They exceed 90 pages. So in summary, they require that all meals conform to the current edition of the USDA dietary guidelines for Americans, and operate according to current provisions in the Michigan food code. Meals can be provided hot, cold, frozen, or shelf stable, and they must meet one third of the recommended daily intake for adults and include healthy eating patterns, variety, limited calories and limited sodium. All menus must be reviewed by a registered dietician and a nutritional analysis is conducted on each meal to ensure compliance. Another important component of the minimum standards is the requirement to provide nutrition education. We provide nutrition education on a monthly basis to all of our congregate home delivered and liquid meal clients. And some of the required topics that need to be covered are emergency preparedness, never more important than today, food safety, making healthy food choices and so on. So in addition to the meals, it’s also important that our clients receive nutrition education.

Jason (09:28):

Meals on Wheels, and the other nutrition programs are one way that we can combat social isolation amongst older adults. Maesha, tell me about the role the volunteer drivers in the program.

Maesha (09:36):

Our volunteers are one of the most vital parts of our nutrition program. In addition to delivering the meals to the participant, the volunteers are the frontline, they’re the eyes and ears to the participants’ wellbeing. And most cases, the volunteer is the only person that our participant sees on a regular basis. The volunteer is that human connection between the services we provide, making sure that our clients are checked in and doing well. The volunteers report back to our site managers, to our staff to make sure that the clients aren’t experiencing any concerns or if they see anything or observe anything during the delivery, they kind of report those odd situations or if they’re questionable. They’ll do that safety check for our clients.

Jason (10:16):

Wants to volunteer as a Meals on Wheels driver, who should they call?

Maesha (10:20):

Anyone interested in volunteering? They can visit our website at They can send in an email to the link on the website, which will go directly to our staff and somebody will respond back to them, or they can call (734) 326-5341 and speak with one of our meal coordinators and they would connect them to the appropriate site so they can complete the volunteer registration. Each volunteer has to go through completed registration form and be background checked prior to beginning any type of volunteer services with us. We are in need of volunteers throughout our service area, which is again the Western Wayne county area in down river. However, at this time we are in an urgent need for volunteers in Westland, Inkster, Wayne and Dearborn Heights communities.

Jason (11:08):

You know, those volunteers are really critical to the program and the participants really count on them and have a connection with their drivers. I’ve talked to many program participants who, you know their drivers by name, know their habits. They get to know them and have conversations with them. And that really gets at the social isolation piece as well. So Joan and Maesha, could you each share a story about how being a participant in one of the nutrition programs has really made a difference for someone?

Maesha (11:32):

We received feedback from our participants on how much and how appreciative they are of the services that we provide. Some of the most memorable stories that we have all kind of share the same theme, the families and the clients themselves really love the service. And we’re very thankful that we’re able to help them with the meals because for most they’re unable to provide the service for themselves. And this helps them meet that one third of the recommended daily intake. And sometimes this is the only meal that they are receiving. And other stories are about, like you said earlier, how much our volunteers mean to the client, the volunteers, they become like family to our clients. They are the face of the meals program and the clients light up when they see them.

Jason (12:12):

And Joan, do you have a story that you want to share?

Joan (12:14):

I do. Everyone is aware that there is no charge or cost for the nutrition. However, we do accept donations and we suggest a $3 per meal donation. We provide all of our clients with a self-addressed stamped envelope for donations. When the donations come back into the office to be compiled, they often are accompanied with a handwritten note from our clients. And I just quoted the note itself because who better to speak about importance of the service than the client and one client wrote, “We want to thank you folks for all the lovely meals you brought to Richard, my husband. He has been blessed by your generosity and kindness. We both have enjoyed your friendships and dedication as well. May God continue to bless all the people who participate and help the citizens who need help receive it – balanced tasty meals so they can be fed and nourished properly. Thanks to all of you who make this possible.” That’s just one example of a handwritten note we received from our clients.

Jason (13:18):

Thanks for sharing those two stories, really impactful accounts of what the program can do for people. I know there’ve been instances where the program has reacted to health emergencies with participants and Joan, could you tell us about a time where someone has had a really critical medical issue and how the program has been there to assist?

Joan (13:37):

Again, the volunteers are so essential in providing assistance to our homebound seniors during a health emergency. Volunteers are trained to report to the site manager, anyone who doesn’t answer the door to receive their meal. We have procedures in place for contacting the clients, emergency contact person, in the event, we are unable to contact the client. Because our volunteers become familiar with the clients on their route, they know when there’s a problem. In one instance, a volunteer could see through the window that the client was on the floor, the volunteer called 9 1 1, reported the incident to the site manager who called the emergency contact. The volunteer insisted on staying with the client until help arrived. When the fire department arrived, the volunteer said, I want to stay with this client until her emergency contact arrives, but I still have meals to deliver on my route. Well, the fire department delivered the remaining meals on her route, so our volunteer could stay with the client. And again, this is just a small example of how Meals on Wheels program is truly a community-based service. And the support from not only The Senior Alliance and Wayne County executive Warren C. Evans, our vendors and our volunteers, enable the continuance of this service to the older adults.

Jason (14:58):

Joan, thanks for sharing that story. Lisa, if someone wants to inquire or sign up for one of the nutrition programs, how can they go about doing that?

Lisa (15:07):

They can visit our department website at to start the intake process, or they can call our office at (734) 326-5202 and be connected to our assessment partner, the Lajoy group to complete the intake and assessment.

Jason (15:31):

Thank you. Would any of you like to add anything else about our nutrition programs?

Maesha (15:36):

As a department director, I am honored to lead a team that is committed to the older adults in Western Wayne county. And we have faced great challenge through this pandemic, but not one time did our staff or our team not want to move forward. And always in the forefront of all of our minds was how do we serve our clients and our participants because we know they’re depending on us. And we just are grateful for the opportunity to do this, the partnership and working with The Senior Alliance. And of course, as Joan mentioned, our Wayne County, executive Warren C. Evans, and our Wayne County Commission, we all work together to address the nutritional needs of older adults in Wayne County.

Jason (16:26):

Lisa, Joan, and Maesha. Thank you for joining me today on our podcast.

Maesha (16:30):

Thank you so much for this opportunity.

Joan (16:32):

Thank you, Jason.

Lisa (16:33):

Thank you, Jason, for having us, we appreciate the opportunity to speak about the program.

Jason (16:38):

If anyone has questions about services or programs, The Senior Alliance offers you can call us at +1 800-815-1112, or email us at For information about our agency, or the programs and services we offer can be found on our website at On Facebook, we can be located by searching for The Senior Alliance. Finally, our Twitter handle is @AAA1C I’m Jason Maciejewski. Thank you for listening to this episode of Inside The Senior Alliance.

Inside The Senior Alliance is a production of The Senior Alliance and Blazing Kiss Media.

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