Seniors’ Meals on Wheels given the red light | SierraSun.com

Seniors’ Meals on Wheels given the red light

Christine Stanley
Sierra Sun

As many as 50 seniors may have to go without Meals on Wheels this week as deliveries were canceled after the Nevada County health inspector put a kibosh on preparing food in a vacant apartment kitchen.

Hot lunches for nearly 50 home-bound residents are typically prepared in a commercial-grade kitchen at the Truckee Donner senior center, but after the facility was flooded by broken pipes this week, staff had to come up with a quick-fix.

“We were ready to prepare meals in an apartment but they will not allow us to do that because we have to operate under [state] safety codes and regulations,” said Melanie Kauffman, executive director of Sierra Senior Services.

The California Uniform Retail Food Facilities Law requires that food prepared for residential care facilities for the elderly is cooked in a location that has a health permit and meets strict sanitation regulations, building codes, storage and space standards, and more, according to Nevada County Health Inspector Janet Mann.

The cancellation of delivered meals this week is inconveniencing dozens of recipients, including Truckee resident Bonni Sue Hickson, who is disabled and finds it difficult to shop for food.

“I shop minimally because of my disability, so I don’t know what plan B is going to be, but it’s going to be called The Lunch Adventure,” Hickson said.

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Hickson said she has been receiving a daily hot meal for the past couple of years and that she relies on the Meals on Wheels program to provide her with a nutritious meal high in protein.

“I really count on those meals because it helps with my fatigue,” she said. “But at least I can prepare a meal, and right now I can be creative in my pantry.”

Kauffman and her staff have been searching all week for an interim kitchen facility in which to prepare nearly 100 daily lunches, but options in Truckee are scarce, Kauffman said.

The county’s regulations aren’t making things any easier, she said.

“There are [people] that we are concerned about that we need to get meals to,” Kauffman said. “We would even be willing to contact a restaurant and have them prepare a healthy lunch for us to deliver, but again we run into the health department issues and nutritional guidelines under Area 4.”

The Area 4 Agency on Aging is the government body that provides funding to Sierra Senior Services for congregate and home-delivered meal programs. The agency also sets the nutrition requirements for those services.

Meals on Wheels recipients are not the only consumers impacted by the loss of the senior center’s kitchen. An additional 30-something community members and residents of the Truckee Donner Senior Apartments are also going without hot lunches.

When the kitchen flooded, the attached dining room was also soaked under nearly a quarter-inch of water, and staff said the facility cannot be reopened for lunch service and community gatherings until building and health inspectors give approval.

“A lot is involved with repairing the senior apartment’s main facility, and it’s not in our jurisdiction because we don’t own the facility,” Kauffman said. “We need to continue health and wellness programming and activities at the senior center, and we could coordinate a transit service to get them to another location, but we don’t have another location.”