An Elk Grove police volunteer delivers free meals to an elderly resident on May 13. The city of Elk Grove launched the Great Plates Delivered program to assist seniors who cannot leave their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A few local restaurants cooked and packaged 303 meals for 101 seniors across Elk Grove last week.

Volunteers, Paratransit drivers, and restaurant employees wore masks and delivered these free meals to elderly residents who cannot leave their homes to buy groceries as well as to seniors who are at high risk from COVID-19.

“There will be no reason for a senior to say, ‘I can’t eat because I can’t go to the store,’” said Yolanda Garcia, the co-owner of Café Elk Grove.

This campaign is a part of the Great Plates Delivered program that started in Elk Grove on May 13. The city of Elk Grove is investing $1 million in this effort during the program’s first 30 days. Organizers expect that 93% of the funds will be reimbursed by the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the Great Plates Delivered program in late April. Cities and counties across California soon joined the campaign that’s also intended to help restaurants that are trying to keep their businesses afloat during a time when the state’s stay-at-home order prohibits them from opening their dining rooms in many counties during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under this program, the city of Elk Grove’s goal is to have local restaurants to prepare up to 10,500 meals a week for delivery to 500 seniors who sign up for deliveries.  

“Our first day of deliveries went very smoothly, especially considering we built the program from scratch in 10 days,” said Sarah Bontrager, the city of Elk Grove’s housing and public service manager.

Jamie’s Café, the Brick House Restaurant, and Café Elk Grove were the earliest restaurants to join the program. They were each assigned to prepare meals on specific days.

Jamie Cobian, the owner of Jamie’s Café in the Laguna West area, said that her staff spent 15 hours preparing their meals and three hours packaging them for the program’s first day of deliveries. They included roast turkey dinners and Cobb salads in their meal kits. Elk Grove police volunteers and Paratransit drivers then helped deliver the meals to seniors during the program’s first day on May 13.

Cobian said that said that the Great Plates Delivered program helped her bring back employees to work at her year-old restaurant.

“It was amazing to give everyone back their jobs,” she said.

During the next morning, the Café Elk Grove staff packaged boxes that each contained breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as reheating instructions. Dishes included frittatas, fresh fruit, and the Filipino dish of chicken adobo.

The cooks followed nutritional guidelines, and the city’s program organizers gave them the delivery addresses for the seniors. Meal kits for vegans and vegetarians were also prepared to fit the dietary requests of some seniors.

Their restaurant is at the District56 center and their staff used the nearby veterans halls as a packaging room.

Garcia’s business is next-door to the Senior Center of Elk Grove where they served visitors for less than three weeks until Sacramento County’s stay-at-home order caused them to close their dining space. She noted that she had to wait a few years to open her restaurant due to the delays in opening the city’s District56 center. That facility had its long-awaited grand opening in January.

“It took a lot of work with the city, and two-and-half weeks after we finally opened, boom,” Garcia said about the sudden closure of District 56. “So everything has been put on pause.”

Café Elk Grove then stayed opened by offering to-go food services only.

During her restaurant’s first day of deliveries for the Great Plates Delivered program, Garcia said that her staff was ahead of schedule.

“(The seniors) were so happy to see my drivers, it was awesome,” she said.