Mary Morris said while she enjoys the fresh-baked meals she receives daily from the Senior Citizens of Kodiak senior center, it is also the visits from delivery driver Barbara Shepard that brighten her days.
“I have a really special friend and she delivers the meals,” said Morris, who has lived on Kodiak Island since 1948. “It’s just good to talk to her because she will take time to talk, tell you what’s going on. It’s very nice.”
Kodiak Island is home to some 6,000 residents, and a third of them, like Mary Morris, are 60 or older. This means the Senior Citizens of Kodiak plays a vital role in keeping older Alaskans thriving in the community.
“We serve almost everyone in some capacity, whether it’s getting out our newsletter or providing information on health care to delivering meals,” said Pat Branson, a plus-60 herself who has headed the senior center since 1988.
Recognizing the need to help the center do its job, Providence Health & Services Alaska, in partnership with Providence Alaska Foundation, invested nearly $28,000 last year so that the Kodiak center could enhance its meal delivery program, which delivers roughly 60 meals each day. Those funds helped provide 1,000 home-delivered meals.
“Since the pandemic has set in, our home-delivery meals have more than doubled,” Branson said. “We serve meals for seven days a week – we are one of the only places in the state that does that.”
According to Branson, even though meals are not free — they cannot charge for meals under the provisions of the Older Americans Act —they can, and do, ask for a $7 donation per meal. Those who cannot pay are not denied a meal. The center covers a third of the costs through state grants, and another third comes from donations. Providence funds the remaining third.
“The Providence money we got from community benefit greatly helps us and fills in that gap,” she said.
Kodiak seniors may opt for home-delivered meals for a number of reasons. For some, it’s convenience. Morris said she signed up for home delivery because she likes the variety of the meals and the freedom from cooking. For others, like Robert Reynolds, who lives with his sister and brother-in-law, it’s about access. His sister usually helps care for him, but when she goes out of town, he needs help.
“It’s all good,” he said of the food that is delivered to his home.
“We have a small assessment we have to do for each person that determines things like if you are able to cook for yourself and get around, and other things based on the ability to do daily living activities,” Branson said. “People might be recovering from being in the hospital, or they’ve been sick. The reasons are varied.”
Jonathan Strong, adult daycare program director at the center, said many of today’s meal-delivery recipients originally came to the senior center to have their meals on-site. But after the COVID-19 pandemic struck, those habits changed. Now, folks like Reynolds, one of his clients, are receiving meals by delivery.
Back at the senior center, the meals are prepared daily, including homemade breads and desserts, seafood from the local canneries when available, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Meals are delivered on trays that can be heated, washed and reused.
“We have three staff in the kitchen, and that nutrition element is important,” Branson said.
Kodiak Island may cover a lot of real estate, Branson added, but it’s a small town at heart, and a place where neighbors help neighbors. Those who may need an extra boost – like a meal delivered to their doorstep – will not be left behind.
“We’re a community that cares for our residents, and we take care of each other,” she said. “Our mission for our agency is to enhance the lives for older adults, and that’s what we are trying to do.”