Emeryville Meals on Wheels Adjusting Service to Curtail COVID-19 Exposure To Seniors

3 mins read

Emeryville’s Meals on Wheels Program will see a reduction in service days in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Emeryville City Manager Christine Daniel announced the changes at the March 19 Special City Council Meeting. The action is intended to reduce exposure to the Seniors that rely on the service for nourishing and inexpensive meals.

The program, founded in Australia in 1953, assists seniors aged 60 and older by offering daily meal deliveries. The program has seen a surge in sign-ups as a result of the stay-at-home order and at least 24 local seniors are now signed up for the program. The service asks for a $3 donation per meal.

Beginning Monday, Mar. 23, the program is being reduced from four to two days per week, but with the same amount of total meals provided. Multiple meals will now just be delivered on Mondays (for coverage through Wednesday) and Thursdays (to cover through Sunday).

“We’re reducing the [delivery] days to limit exposure,” said Recreation Supervisor Kim Burrowes. “But we’re not cutting out any meals, per se. We’re not cutting anybody out for food service.”

Briana “Buttercup” Peña, a recreation leader for the city’s afterschool program, had her work hours reduced after schools closed. So Peña signed up to deliver meals — a paid position — after seeing the growing need to reach out to the city’s at-risk communities. “I do it to help out,” said Peña. “I do feel for the seniors, especially during these times – it’s hard to find basic needs. So it makes me feel good to know that they have some type of food to depend on during these times.”

Briana “Buttercup” Peña, a recreation leader for the city’s afterschool program, hand delivers hot meals to seniors in Emeryville signed up for the Meals on Wheels Program on Monday, Mar. 23, 2020. Photo by Sarah Belle Lin.

As a separate effort, the City’s Community Services Department staff began outreach by phone to more than 500 seniors in their contact list to assess whether regular check-ins by city staff are desired and necessary. The city aims to connect to its isolated community members, especially the elderly, who have been ordered to shelter-in-place because of their susceptibility to the highly contagious novel coronavirus, COVID-19. “Nutrition and social interaction are two primary actions,” said City Manager Christine Daniel, of the phone check-ins.

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According to Youth & Adult Services Director Brad Helfenberger, over the course of those conversations, if the city discovers there’s needs not being met, the city will reevaluate how to meet those needs. A majority of staff members making these calls are teachers from the Emeryville Child Development Center (ECDC); they will be checking in twice a week, if requested.

Due to global, state, county and local emergencies declared in the face of COVID-19, the City of Emeryville closed all its city facilities on Mar. 17. The City’s Senior Center had already closed four days prior to the local emergency declaration. Oakland-based Mercy Brown Bag, supported by Elder Care Alliance’s Mercy Retirement & Care Center, continues to work with the city to deliver dozens of meals to elderly in and around Emeryville. The City will continue grocery bag deliveries with Mercy Brown Bag on the first and third Thursdays of every month.

Since Thursday Mar. 19, the program has converted into mobile delivery service and regularly brings more than 100 grocery bags to seniors throughout Emeryville’s vicinity. “We are continuing to serve all our clients,” said Helfenberger. “We’ve actually even expanded our service to include people who normally come to have meals in the Senior Center.”

Emeryville Senior Center front desk staff member Brian Andrews continues work to support the senior community by fielding calls and questions while helping with meal delivery to the elderly. Photo by Sarah Belle Lin.

Although the Senior Center has closed its doors, front desk staff member Brian Andrews is still keeping watch over the community’s senior population, as well as greeting passersby. Andrews will continue to assist callers who have questions and concerns two times a week, when he is not helping out with the Meals on Wheels Program.

“I think still being here available to deliver the meals offers people a sense of regularity,” said Andrews. “I think it’s good for people to see that there’s still some sense of normality going on even though things are changing – we’re changing along with them in a way that they can still recognize.”

Those who’d like to sign up for Meals on Wheels, please call the Emeryville Senior Center at (510) 596-3730. Contributions to the program can be made through the County program website.

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Sarah Belle Lin

is an independent journalist and photographer based in the Bay Area. Sarah Belle aims to highlight diverse narratives and is excited to contribute a fresh perspective to The E'ville Eye.


  1. I’m so glad to hear the seniors in your community are still getting service. Vital to their health and well-being.

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