Food program for seniors still vital in northwest Kansas as pandemic continues

Charles Rankin
Hays Daily News
Hays Nutrition Site Manager Vickie Thyfault, right, serves meals to Peggy Brungardt, center, and Millie Rohr, left. The NorthWest Kansas Area Agency on Aging provides more than 16,500 meals a month in 18 counties with its nutrition project.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the need for nutrition for seniors in northwest Kansas is as important as ever.

The ​NorthWest Kansas Area Agency on Aging has continued with its nutrition project throughout the pandemic, making adjustments when needed, but still serving its 18 counties and providing more than 16,500 meals each month.

Michelle Morgan, the executive director for the agency, which serves Cheyenne, Decatur, Ellis, Gove, Graham, Logan, Norton, Osborn, Phillips, Rawlins, Rooks, Russell, Sheridan, Sherman, Smith, Thomas, Trego and Wallace counties, said a big reason the program has continued to be successful during the past two years is because of the commitment of the citizens who make it happen.

"I am extremely proud of our program and all the volunteers and employees who have stepped up during this time," Morgan said. "Obviously, this was a disaster that nobody, I think, could've really prepared for adequately."

One of the primary pieces of the nutrition project is the congregate meals program. Morgan said these congregate dining locations throughout the counties were initially shut down in the beginning because of stay-at-home orders, but the agency was quick to adapt.

"We switched to to-go meals at all of the places right away," Morgan said.

While most of the seniors have returned to congregate dining, with health precautions still in place, some continued with the to-go meals.

Plans in place to keep the project going

Another part of the nutrition project is home-delivered meals.

In addition to making sure the deliveries were done in a safe manner, including contactless deliveries, Morgan said some other changes were needed.

Marion Brown, left, a volunteer meal deliverer in Hays serves a meal to Mardella Rous. More than 16,500 meals are served in 18 counties with the NorthWest Kansas Area Agency on Aging through its nutrition project.

"We used a lot of shelf-stable meals," Morgan said. "Typically, we only send out one emergency meal for our homebound people, just in case we have a blizzard or bad weather... to where our volunteers can't safely get to them to deliver meals."

She said because of the pandemic, the agency was sending out one to two weeks' worth of shelf-stable meals.

"In case we did have a COVID outbreak, we wanted to make sure these people still had food," Morgan said.

In addition to sending out shelf-stable meals for homebound seniors, the agency also put in place plans in case of an exposure that might close the kitchens that prepare meals for the 18 counties that it serves.

"For some of them, we looked at maybe other kitchens shipping out food to other communities as a backup plan," Morgan said.

In the early part of the pandemic, many restaurants were forced to close dining areas, so the agency also helped some of the local businesses that could be suffering.

"We worked with a lot of them to provide some vouchers and also some delivery service too, as another safe option for people too," Morgan said.

She emphasized that the local community is key to helping during the pandemic.

"It was really going back to our communities, our partners and our volunteers to figure out what can be done," Morgan said.

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Nutrition project still in need of help

Morgan said while the agency was successful in maintaining the nutrition project, even through changes and adaptations, the agency is always in need of additional help.

"Our older population is growing," Morgan said. "We have quite a few counties that our senior population is actually over 30% (of the population)."

Because of this growing population, Morgan said every little bit of help is useful.

"If there's someone who has an hour to volunteer to help deliver meals, even if it's just a substitute or a backup, we always need it," Morgan said. "We are at capacity for delivering meals because we only have so many people on a route."

Morgan said anyone in the region that might be able to help can always call the agency's office in Hays at 785-628-8204 and ask to talk to the nutrition project.

For more information about the ​NorthWest Kansas Area Agency on Aging​, including other services that it provides, visit its website at www.nwkaaa.com.

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