Maryville restaurant helps with Blount County Meals on Wheels program

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BLOUNT COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — Since the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Tennessee and Safer at Home orders were issued in mid-March, the Smoky Mountain Meals on Wheels in Blount County is serving more seniors now than ever before. Plus hundreds of extra meals are coming from a Maryville restaurant thanks to a special grant.

For locally owned Gracie’s Restraurant, the owner told us the extra income, while full Safer at Home orders were in effect, has helped a lot.

When congregate meals were shut down at all senior centers, and they remain closed, the emphasis shifted to home delivery and the demand immediately shot up. For community agencies, the U.S. Labor Department’s “Families First Act” gave local agencies money to hire help in order to feed people.

At the Smoky Mountain Meals on Wheels kitchen, staff members prepared several hundred entrees on Tuesday. The food will be frozen, then delivered next week to seniors in Blount County. A big change from the routine followed before the pandemic began nearly 10 weeks ago.

“So, we have gone from serving five meals a week to seven to keep our seniors out of the grocery stores as much as possible. This food right now is going to be stored in the freezer until we make a delivery on Monday. Then a variety of seven different meals will be grouped together and delivered to an individuals home.”

Nutrition Director Lynnda Manville

Ranee Jennings showed us canned goods that will be placed in bags with those frozen meals.

“As you can see this will cover several meals for someone. We follow the guidelines of so much protein, fiber, fruit.”

Ranee Jennings

Volunteer Herb Trotter prepared bags of groceries Tuesday morning that he’ll deliver to half a dozen seniors in Townsend.

“Most of the people we deliver to are elderly and some have underlying conditions, so they are susceptible to the virus so we are using extreme care while we are doing the deliveries.”

Herb Trotter

Now into its third month, the Meals on Wheels program here has been in overdrive.

The Blount County Community Action Agency has gone from preparing and delivering 700 meals a week in mid-March to 1,100 meals today, and all are home-delivered.

“So, we’ve been able to provide meals all week. They don’t have to get out to get their food. They don’t have to be exposed to the highest risk of impact during this pandemic.”

Blount County CAA Director Tammye Pirie

To help supply nearly 300 more meals a week, Blount County’s CAA employed Ken Gentry and his staff from Gracie’s Restaurant in Maryville.

The food prepared at the restaurant on Fridays is put into freezers and delivered on Mondays.

Funding for the extra food was provided through the Families First Act.

“The intent of this funding was to help the small foodservice industry and that’s what we’ve been able to do to partner with them.”

Blount County CAA Director Tammye Pirie

“I’m truly hopeful they enjoy it, we really enjoy making it we really do. It’s a pleasure to be able to provide the meals and somewhat different from what they are normally used to getting.”

Gracie’s Restaurant Owner Ken Gentry

For hundreds of seniors in Blount County, home delivery is now their normal and there’s no worry about where their next meal will come from.

Directors at the Smoky Mountain Meals on Wheels program say many seniors would have fallen through the cracks had it not been for the Families First Act and the grant to have Gracie’s make those additional meals, and although food costs have been rising since the pandemic began, feeding the elderly and those stuck at home remains priority for Blount County’s CAA.

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