BELL COUNTY, Ky. (WATE) — Since the pandemic arrived in our region in mid-March, the feeding program for seniors in Bell County, Kentucky has seen a spike in the number of people served daily.
WATE 6 On Your Side’s Don Dare visited the senior center in Middlesboro just across the Tennessee-Kentucky state line.
The center is feeding about 25% more people lately than it did months ago when the pandemic began. Middlesboro is the largest city in southeast Kentucky, a community of more than 9,000 people. But 17% of the population is over the age of 65.
The county’s senior center is doing all it can to make sure no senior goes unfed.
On Friday in Middlesboro, Ky. the first hour of Glenn Wilson’s morning was spent unloading meals prepared by kitchen staff in Pineville. The food here is delivered daily to seniors in this southeast Kentucky community.
Inside the dining hall at Bell County’s Senior Center, there have been no congregate meals served in over nine weeks because of COVID-19. So meals are now served either by curbside pick-up, the most in-demand, or by personal delivery.
“So they can come and do the drive-by and get their meals and we have increased the number we can deliver to the homes to people who can’t drive and need one hot nutritious meal,” Carolyn Mason, Bell County Senior Center Director, said. “We’re expecting next week to add five more.”
Johnny Cook is a driver for a local transit company. It takes him about an hour and a half to personally deliver food to shut-in’s throughout the county.
“Sometimes I’m the only person who they see all day. I can’t talk with them very long because I have so many meals to deliver. But I do take some time with them. Dare: That’s go to be rewarding for you. Sure, I love it,” Cook said.
With food being one of the services most in demand by seniors since the pandemic began, additional funding approved by Congress has assured the growing numbers of those in need will be met.
“Some of these seniors can’t get out and drive. They also have medical problems,” Joyce Stanley, a Senior Center worker, said.
Bell County’s Senior Center is a nonprofit organization. Kentucky has cut funds to the center, $30,000, in the last few years. While the new federal aid helping to buy additional food, local donations are also essential.
“There is more need than there is assets,” Dinah Presnell, a Senior Center Board Member, said. “We are a very rural area. We have lost a lot of population, here. Working population. We always need funding and donations.”
With the increased call for meal deliveries to seniors because of the virus, the feeding program in this part of Kentucky is meeting its goal and more.
“We want everyone to have a good hot nutritious meal. That way they can remain independent in their home longer where they’re going to be happier,” Carolyn Mason said.
Many seniors wore happy faces Friday, knowing the center is there to assist them.
The center’s director expects the congregate meal program to be closed for several more weeks — possibly through June.
Kentucky’s governor Andy Beshear is gradually reopening the state. June 1 is the target date for movie theaters and fitness centers; however, senior centers are not yet on the reopening list.
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