Caring People Alliance continues feeding older residents

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Caring People Alliance President and CEO Jerry Macdonald loads a box of frozen meals into a van in the parking lot of the Marconi Center at 15th and Porter streets. The meals will be delivered to senior citizens in the area. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

While many businesses and organizations have had to cease operations during the COVID-19 shutdown, the Caring People Alliance is making sure older residents are not going hungry.

The nonprofit, which provides services to children, families and older adults throughout Philadelphia, operates the Marconi Older Adults Program out of the Marconi Center at 15th and Porter streets in South Philadelphia.

Normally, they provide a meal a day to older residents. The COVID-19 situation has provided challenges, but the program keeps pushing through, making sure meals get to the desired destinations when the recipients can’t make it out of their homes.

“The centerpiece of that program is a lunch meal every day for the seniors in the community, making sure they get at least one nutritious, fully balanced meal a day,” said Jerry Macdonald, president and CEO of Caring People Alliance. “When the shutdown occurred and social distancing occurred, we needed to keep the program running.”

So they improvised.

Residents who were still able to make a short walk to the Marconi Center are permitted to come to the facility on weekdays between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to pick up a grab-and-go meal. All others can arrange for a week’s worth of frozen food to be delivered every Monday. Options are open for either strategy.

Program worker LaWanda Savoy waits for residents to arrive and pick up meals at the Marconi Center at 15th and Porter streets. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

“They can come in the side door,” Macdonald said. “There’s no contact. They can just pick it up. Or if they can’t make it in, we can deliver it to them. We just sent out a whole crew of volunteers throughout the community to deliver meals.”

The group started delivering on March 16 and has continued the last several weeks, dropping off several hundred meals. The results have been overwhelmingly positive.

“There’s a lot of folks that are afraid to come out,” said Luke McKetta, director of the Marconi Center. “They’re very thankful for the service because they had no food. I had one person say she was praying to see when she was going to get her food next, so it’s great we were able to help those folks.”

Staff and volunteers have been working hard and moving cautiously not to spread germs to older residents who are the most at risk of the coronavirus. Workers wear gloves and masks and they sanitize equipment.

“We had to put a lot of safety precautions in place,” Macdonald said. “Everyone who works here washes their hands, puts on gloves, puts on masks. Every time there’s a different function, they change gloves and masks in between. There’s no contact when we deliver. We can drop off the food at the front door. We call them and tell them the food arrived and we step back. We’re trying to do everything as safely as possible while keeping our program running.”

Volunteer Quinton Alston carries a box of frozen meals into a van in the parking lot of the Marconi Center at 15th and Porter streets. The meals will be delivered to senior citizens in the area. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

Demands have risen over the last few weeks, and the Caring People Alliance is keeping pace.

“As more and more businesses closed down there was a bigger need for delivery,” McKetta said. “Every week, it increased. There’s definitely a need there.”

Residents of Philadelphia over the age of 60 are eligible to receive food and there are more than 20 centers around the city participating in the program, which is supported by the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, although not all centers offer delivery.

To ensure the center has enough meals on hand, South Philadelphia residents who are interested should call 215-717-1971 to sign up. Seniors outside of South Philly can call the PCA Helpline at 215-765-9040 to find a meal pickup location in their area.

083: Caring People Alliance President and CEO Jerry Macdonald loads a box of frozen meals into a van driven by Luke McKetta, director of the Marconi Center at 15th and Porter streets. The meals will be delivered to senior citizens in the area. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

“Even if you’re not a member of the Marconi Older Adults, you can still participate in this program,” Macdonald said.

Employees and volunteers are hoping to continue to find new ways to help the older citizens through troubling times. Macdonald said those crucial workers have gone above and beyond in the dedication department.

“We’re in the business of helping people and this crisis has been very frustrating because we haven’t been able to help people,” Macdonald said. “So when the call went out, people said they wanted to do something to help the community.”