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Home delivery prep crew is based in the Eastside Church kitchen during senior center remodel

JASON CHANEY - Meals on Wheels delivery driver, Jeanne Egging (left), and cook, Mary Carroll, get a meal delivery ready to go on Thursday morning in the parking lot of Eastside Church.

Call it perfect timing, luck or just plain coincidental that the local senior center had to close for a long-awaited remodel at the same time COVID-19 pandemic precautions required establishments to close.

"The same day we would have had to close for the virus is when we closed for the remodel, so it just worked out perfect. We had everything lined out," said Prineville Soroptimists Senior Center Director Melody Kendall.

Although local seniors are missing the daily interactions, games and classes they typically enjoy at the center, the home delivery Meals on Wheels program did not cease — it simply moved across town.

And it's alive and well, thanks to the folks at Eastside Church.

It's been four years since the board of the Soroptimist Charitable Trust Board started working on funding for a much-needed building renovation. A year ago, when they thought the construction was about to begin, Kendall started contacting local agencies and churches for help.

"We knew that we needed to get out of our kitchen, and we needed to find another kitchen because we felt very strongly that we needed to continue the home delivery program," Kendall said. "It's too valuable not to continue, and I wanted our employees to be able to keep working, too."

Nothing was a good fit — until she contacted Eastside Church.

"They opened their arms to us! They said, 'Of course, you can use our kitchen for as long as you need to,'" Kendall recalled. "They aren't even charging us to be out there. They're a blessing to us."

Eastside Church Lead Pastor Brian Carmack said they are honored to be able to partner with Meals on Wheels by offering them the use of their facility.

"Those who work with this program are providing a great service to our community," he said. "The Bible tells us that when we reach people in need, it is as if we are caring for Christ himself. I guess you could say, 'Meals on Wheels is feeding Jesus!' That's a program we love to support."

Plans to move were put on hold until grant funding was finally secured. Once that happened, Facebook employees pitched in to help move everything out of the building before Griffin Construction began work in early March.

The three senior center kitchen employees set up shop in the Eastside Church kitchen and continue preparing meals five days a week for 90 to 100 elderly clients.

"It's a smaller kitchen than what we have right now, but they're being troopers, and they're making it work," Kendall said of the meal crew. "The church is being amazing to us."

Meals are ready around 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. There are four Meals on Wheels routes, each with 17 to 25 clients. Volunteer drivers promptly pick up the meals and make deliveries.

Most of the nearly 25 drivers are also seniors. When the pandemic struck, Kendall thought several of her drivers would want to give up their routes, so she put out a plea for more drivers.

"I was flooded with people volunteering to do that. The interesting part was, none of my regular drivers quit. They're still doing it every day. They said, 'No, this is my job, I'm doing it,'" Kendall said. "They get so attached to the people they deliver to, and it's been a nice break for them to be able to get out."

In June, they delivered 1,600 meals.

Pick-up meals are also available during the pandemic. They would like to have the order at least a week ahead of time so the ladies in the kitchen can know how many meals to prepare. They distribute up to 200 meals a month through this temporary program.

To qualify for home delivery, clients must be age 60 or older, live within five miles of the senior center, and not have in-home support to be able to fix regular, nutritious meals. They ask for a $4 donation for each meal.

"Most of our home delivery clients can't really afford anything, so whatever they send is good," Kendall said. "I probably only get donations from 20% of the clients."

Grants, community donations, Older Americans Act funding through the National Council on Aging, and profits from the Neat Repeat fund the meal program.

"Since the Neat Repeat has been closed, our community has absolutely opened up to us," Kendall said, adding that she is grateful for the generous monetary donations.

The center won't be open for patrons until Crook County enters Phase 3, but Kendall and the crew look forward to mid to late August when they will be able to move back into the renovated building (with help from Facebook employees) and begin using the kitchen. There's new lighting, ceiling tiles, flooring and paint. The kitchen has a new oven, freezer, cooler and reverse osmosis water filter system.

Pastor Carmack said it's amazing how the renovation coincided with the COVID-19 outbreak.

"Our building has been under-utilized in the time of quarantine, and so it has been a real blessing to us, knowing that an organization like this can be putting our building to good use."

Kendall is thankful that the people at Eastside Church opened their doors so Meals on Wheels could continue during the renovation and the pandemic.

She pointed out that most of their clients don't have a lot of family or local support, and these meals ensure they are getting proper nutrition.

"We have somebody who cares about them at their home on a regular basis, checking on them. It might be the only people that they see," she said. "To me, that's the most vital part of the whole program."

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Meals on Wheels

Donations can be made by check and mailed to: Prineville Senior Center, P.O. Box 553, Prineville, OR 97754

Phone: 541-447-6844


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