Arizona has received more than $5.3 million from the Department of Health and Human Services for meal services aimed at seniors, Gov. Doug Ducey announced in a press release on Wednesday.
The money will go towards meal delivery programs for older adults and senior center programs, according to the release. Two-thirds of the money will go towards home meal delivery.
The grant comes after a rise in meal and grocery delivery services across the state as a result of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. Area Agency on Aging, a group that focuses on senior citizen care and resources, has seen demand more than double in Maricopa County since the health crisis escalated.
“We usually get 300 calls a day to our help line,” said Mary Lynn Kasunic, president and CEO of Area Agency on Aging, Region One. “Since last Wednesday, we’ve had a thousand calls a day.”
The agency will distribute the money among nonprofits and cities with senior care programs.
Older adults have higher risk of COVID-19-related complications, according to the CDC, leaving many to rely on delivery services for food or groceries as they remain close to home to avoid exposure as urged by state and federal health officials.
“There is a growing awareness of the huge need for making sure the elderly have at least something to eat,” Kasunic said.
Area Agency on Aging representatives have been working with the federal government to acquire more funds, she said.
Some delivery services, like Fountain Hills Home Delivered Meals, have never seen such a sudden increase in calls..
“We’ve seen an uptick in requests to join the program and to volunteer,” Rachael Goodwin, community services director of Fountain Hills, said.
Fountain Hills Home Delivered Meals will celebrate 20 years of year-round service this year, but the group is facing all-new complications. The increase in demand brought on by COVID-19 also comes with increased precautions for drivers, who may also be concerned for their health.
Goodwin said the delivery service is working diligently to assure both the needs of the volunteers and the recipients are met. She also said volunteers are crucial to Fountain Hills Home Delivered Meals, both now and in less stressful times.
This sentiment is shared by Kerry Bashi, founder of Your Farm Foods, a business that delivers locally-grown produce and other items to customers regardless of age. Bashi initially started the business because of the convenience and easy access to quality produce, she said, but her sudden business growth is something she had never expected.
“I’m happy that we’re here to help,” Bashi said. “The process has definitely changed and it almost changes every day.”
In an effort to meet the rising demand, Your Farm Foods has partnered with other Phoenix businesses like Lakuna Kava Bar, Udder Delights and Cohoots to utilize building space and storage.
She said extra funding to businesses and services like hers could not only relieve stress and fulfill needs for older adults, but it could provide jobs to those left financially unstable due to COVID-19 precautions.
“We were a small growing business just a matter of weeks ago,” she said. “I think everyone doing this right now could use more staff or volunteers.”
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