Valley community partnerships expand reach to seniors

Virginia covid-19
(© Ingo Menhard –

The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank and the Valley Program for Aging Services have partnered for more than a decade.

That long-standing relationship enabled staff from each organization to come together quickly to problem-solve how food could be transported safely to isolated seniors in need, in the aftermath of Gov. Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order.

Meals on Wheels operates from VPAS facilities, serving eligible seniors throughout the central Shenandoah Valley. With new precautions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the delivery program now carries their hot and frozen prepared meals along with shelf-stable food supplies from the Food Bank.

“They pick up 100 food boxes filled with non-perishable items from us monthly, and distribute the food every two weeks,” says Robin Swecker, partner services coordinator for the Food Bank. “The alternative delivery method gets more food to seniors in fewer visits—reducing contact and enabling VPAS to do more for the seniors they serve.”

When Northam’s stay-at-home order took effect March 30, VPAS needed another way to ensure the people they reach continue to receive enough to eat.

“This stay-at-home order creates a ripple effect in families,” says Jeri Schaff, executive director for VPAS. “We provide transportation, in-person, and in-home community services, which help family caregivers. Now, caregivers must grapple with their own safety, children home from school, and new financial pressures.

“These factors make it harder to care for elderly parents or family members,” Schaff adds.

This enhanced partnership comes at a critical time. According to Jeri, the extra food from the Food Bank is just what vulnerable seniors in the area need.

“Robin and her Food Bank colleagues are very aware of the needs of our seniors, who are very frail,” Schaff says. “The Food Bank gives us food that is easy to prepare, and easy to chew. The food is also familiar and comforting.”

“The boxes are packed carefully, taking reduced sodium into consideration for example,” Swecker says.

This new arrangement also helps both organizations reach more people.

“Our Reach program operates from the Maury River Senior Center, which serves the cities of Lexington and Buena Vista, and Rockbridge County. Our expanded partnership broadens our reach to serve seniors in Augusta and Rockingham Counties, and the cities of Harrisonburg, Waynesboro, and Staunton,” Swecker adds.

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