For an opportunity to get a hot, nutritious meal and spend quality time with a friend or loved one, the Resource Center for Independent Living, 409 Columbia St., Utica, is testing out its proposed Silver Plates program.
On April 6, at least 25 seniors and their caregivers visited the center and tasted two dinners: vegetable lasagna and chicken and biscuits. They had the opportunity to take home one of the meals, which also included salad, cookies, milk and garlic bread.
Georgianna Sanges, marketing and development specialist with RCIL, explained that the organization is applying for a grant from the Health Foundation of Western & Central New York to offer Silver Plates full-time.
The Health Foundation “chose different organizations throughout its service area to come up with a prototype program,” Sanges said. “We talked with our community members, and seniors and caregivers, to try and find out what their concerns are and what we can do as an agency to improve the quality of life for seniors and caregivers. A common need identified” through these talks “that kept arising was access to good nutrition at home. Some seniors have difficulty getting to the grocery store, and it can be difficult preparing meals — it isn’t always something they can do on their own — they may not be able to use a stove on their own without supervision.”
So RCIL staff decided to relieve the stress on seniors and their caregivers by providing a new meal program that could also promote a means of respite and allow for some quality time spent with neighbors. Sanges said while Meals on Wheels is a great program that continues to provide nutritious home-delivered dinners to area seniors in need, some people needing services were falling through the cracks.
With Meals on Wheels, “there is a long waiting list right now. People need service, but they don’t necessarily meet the eligibility criteria,” she said. “We’re looking at creating a program to meet that need as well.”
With the Silver Plates pilot program, seniors and caregivers will have two meal options per day. Seniors can call in to RCIL and let them know which of the two meals they’d like to order. RCIL staff would prepare the meals, and Sanges said they hope to deliver them to local senior centers and senior housing centers. Those who have the means to pick up their own meals will be free to come visit the center.
“We tested the pilot program on April 6 to see how the concept would be received by the community, and we wanted to get feedback from our attendees to see how we can improve it if we’re funded” by the grant, Sanges said. “We asked them how many weeks they would be open to” having the program, “if they’d be willing to pay a small fee for the meal, if they would order their meals online or prefer to order by phone, and what types of meals they’d like to see on the menu.”
If the program is funded by the Health Foundation, the marketing specialist said RCIL was also interested in having area seniors contact them if they are interested in volunteer opportunities within Silver Plates. RCIL presented a “pitch” of its pilot program to the foundation on April 25, but no date has been set as to when the organization will get word whether it receives the grant funding, Sanges said.
As for volunteers, “that’s all part of the options we’re willing to look into,” she said. “If we do get the funding, we can hire a driver to deliver the meals. We’re exploring lots of our options at this point.”
Right now Silver Plates is offering two meals per household so a senior and their caregiver can enjoy a meal together, or if the caregiver has errands to run or plans to go out to dinner that evening, they can be rest-assured that mom or dad has a nutritious, hot meal at home, Sanges said.
Seniors “are not getting take-out in a hurry, and if a person doesn’t want to eat their meal that day, they can always refrigerate or freeze it to heat up for the next day,” she said.
RCIL is looking to partner with a variety of senior centers in the area if Silver Plates becomes a permanent program.
Sanges said Silver Plates isn’t the only program where RCIL is looking to improve the lives of seniors and caregivers in the community. Lately the organization has hosted several enrichment events where seniors and their caregivers can come out and enjoy time together.
Enrichment programs thus far have included a recent pizza party and St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
“Our joint enrichment events are for seniors and caregivers to come out and enjoy some time together,” Sanges said. “We have staff available here if anyone needs help going to the restroom or is in need of a little assistance.”
She said, “For St. Patrick’s Day, a lot of seniors mentioned they had enjoyed the parade (at one time), but now it’s cold and it’s not accessible for them, so they don’t celebrate the holiday as much anymore. So we came up with the idea of hosting our own celebration. We served corned beef and cabbage, we had Irish dancers come in for a performance, Irish arts-and-crafts, and people seemed to really enjoy that.”
RCIL also offers a specialized type of “pen pal” program for caregivers where they are teamed up with another caregiver from the community. Each may share their struggles and triumphs, or ask each other how they may have handled certain situations while caring for a loved one.
“They know they’re not in this alone, and they can establish some kind of support in that,” Sanges said.
RCIL has also offered events where they distribute weekly binders to seniors so that they may keep lists of doctors appointments, medications, contacts, medical records, health care proxies, end-of-life wishes, birth certificates, etc., all in one organized place.
In the zipper binder, “We created a form, came up with tabs and even some blank tabs to help them organize their important information — just something to get them started. As a caregiver, it’s good for when they go away on vacation and have someone else” caring “for their loved one. That way everything their senior needs is in one organized place in case there’s an emergency.”
For more information about what senior programs RCIL has to offer, call 315-797-4642 or go online to www.rcil.com.