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By Dennis Taylor
When nobody was looking, local agencies, philanthropists, and restaurant owners conspired to do the right thing for a needy contingent of the human race in Monterey County.
Senior citizens from Aromas to King City, who for whatever reason are unable to shop or cook for themselves, have been receiving fresh meals since March 30 from multiple local eateries thanks to a collaboration between Meals on Wheels of the Salinas Valley, two transportation services, and generous local donors.
The original participating restaurants — Gordon’s Café, Portobellos, and Villa Azteca (all in Oldtown Salinas) —have since been joined by Norma’s Family Restaurant in Salinas, Stevie’s Family Restaurant in Prunedale, and Lawrence’s Restaurant in King City.
The five-days-a-week program called MASA — Meals on Wheels of the Salinas Valley and our Salinas Valley Community Partners in Action — is an idea spawned only days earlier to service seniors (60 and older) who recently began sheltering at home in compliance with California’s statewide effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
The multi-pronged effort sprouted from an idea suggested by MOW Salinas Valley Executive Director Regina Gage in response to a recent influx of requests for services from newly homebound seniors.
“We were basically already at capacity when we started getting calls from more seniors who needed meals,” said Laurie Bend, community outreach director for MOW Salinas Valley. “So at that point it became a question of how to accommodate these new requests.”
Gage sprang to action, says Bend, pitching the idea to Salinas restaurant owners whose businesses are providing takeout services during the pandemic.
“I sharpened my pencil and gave them the best price I could,” said Gordon Chin, owner of Gordon’s Café. “We now have extra meals to provide during the week, and our seniors are getting fed. It’s very much a win-win situation for everybody. I’m happy and appreciative that Meals on Wheels invited us to participate, and I think Regina is, too.”
Portobello’s has a long history of collaborations with Meals on Wheels through the years on fundraising progress, and owner Don Gibbons was equally eager to help with the MASA project.
“We’re just really happy for the opportunity to make this contribution to our community,” he said. “Everybody helping everybody is what we need at a time like this, and it’s what we’ve always been about.”
Gage found funding for the project with startling speed, Bend said.
“The raw cost of meals for our existing program is about $5 per meal, but we were fortunate to receive generous donations from the John D’Arrigo, President and CEO of D’Arrigo Brothers, the Andrew and Phyllis D’Arrigo Charity Foundation, and another one from Blazer Wilkinson,” said the outreach director.
Participating restaurants are providing meals to the program at prices ranging from $7-$12, Bend said.
The next challenge for Meals on Wheels was finding a way to deliver additional meals throughout the county, since MOW drivers were already delivering meals to 150-200 homes throughout the week, and had full schedules.
“MST actually came forward and contacted us, saying they had drivers who were available and wanted to help,” Bend said. “And then Community Builders of Monterey County hooked us up with ITN (Independent Transportation Network), another senior driving organization.
Drivers from MST and ITN pick up the meals from the restaurants and deliver them Monday through Friday.
“We offered to help because, for starters, it was just the right thing to do,” said Carl Sedoryk, General Manager and CEO of MST. “We have the resources, we have the vehicles, we have drivers who currently are being under-utilized. Meanwhile, I want to keep my employees happy and busy by helping the community until the recovery begins to happen and we can go back to providing our usual services.”
When the inaugural week of the program concluded on Friday, 50 seniors had registered for MASA deliveries.
Seniors who would like to be considered for the program are invited to visit the website or call 831-758-6325 for additional information.
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