Great Plates Delivered, a program that works with Elk Grove restaurants to prepare and deliver free meals to homebound residents, has been extended by a month.
This service aims to provide food for seniors who cannot leave their homes to shop for groceries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Funds also support participating restaurants that had to close their dining rooms under state and county stay-at-home orders.
Elk Grove’s version of the program launched in May and was to end on July 10 – city spokesperson Kristyn Laurence told the Citizen that support for Great Plates Delivered will now last until Aug. 9.
“For many seniors, this program makes a big difference in allowing them to stay home and stay safe,” said Sarah Bontrager, the city’s housing and public service manager. “As we’re seeing COVID cases spike in the region, we’re grateful that our partners at FEMA and California Office of Emergency Services continue to see the value in the program.”
In May, the city planned to serve up to 500 people and spend $1 million for the program. The city staff anticipates that the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will reimburse 93% of the funds.
Thirteen Elk Grove restaurants have been involved in the program that delivered more than 55,400 meals to nearly 500 seniors in the past two months, Laurence said. She said that the program has spent more than $923,700, as of July 10.
There are currently eleven restaurants that are still preparing dozens of meal kits several times a week. Each kit has three dishes for a day’s worth of breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as reheating instructions.
On July 10, the Pho Bistro restaurant in Laguna assembled 60 meal kits that included wonton soup for dinner and vegetable egg casserole for breakfast.
“It’s a great cause that helps the community and helps business – you can’t go wrong with that,” owner Mimi Pham said after she finished handing take-out orders to customers and delivery drivers.
She showed a thank you letter from a Great Plates recipient who said that she never had Vietnamese food before.
Pham said that her restaurant opened last September and ran its dining business for six months until government stay-at-home orders called upon all restaurants to close their dining rooms.
“Everything is a learning curve for us,” she said. “We were able to adapt pretty quickly.”
Pham mentioned that her staff just started to reopen their dining room a few weeks ago before they heard the recent news that they had to reclose it. They’re now back to simply offering to-go orders.
“All we want is to be able to pay the bills,” Pham said.
A few Paratransit staff members arrived to pick up meal kits from Pham’s restaurant and then deliver to seniors.
“It keeps us busy,” Paratransit driver David Coe said about Great Plates Delivered, before mentioning that his staff was downsized to 22 employees, out of 104.
He said that many Paratransit employees went to eTran service provider, Regional Transit.
That morning, the Café Elk Grove had staff members privately deliver meals to seniors who received baked chicken, chicken burgers, and fruit smoothies. They were one of the earliest restaurants to join the Great Plates Delivered program in May, and they can sometimes make up to 90 deliveries a week, co-owner Yolanda Garcia said.
The restaurant neighbors the Senior Center of Elk Grove in the city’s Ditsrict56 center, which has been closed since March due to the stay-at-home order’s closure of community centers. Café Elk Grove has stayed in business by offering curbside pickup orders and preparing meals for Great Plates Delivered. The staff plans to serve drinks to-go for customers visiting recently reopened Elk Grove Aquatic Center nearby.
“Being that it’s a government building, it will be one of the last buildings to open,” co-owner Jesse Hoover said about District56. “Unfortunately, that means we’ll be one of the last restaurants to reopen as well. In that regard, from a business standpoint, we’re grateful (Great Plates Delivered) has kept us operational throughout this time as well.”
Bontrager said that local seniors can still sign up for the Great Plates Delivered service. She said that the program may last through this fall, “though there are no guarantees.”
The program offers meals to Elk Grove residents who are age 65 or older, and cannot prepare meals at home or shop for groceries. This service is also available for residents who are between the ages of 60-64 and have been exposed or diagnosed with COVID-19.
Residents who currently receive assistance from state and federal food programs such as CalFresh and Meals on Wheels are not eligible for the Great Plates Delivered service.