Seniors offer affordable meals to all Richmond residents, even under 55

The new seniors centre at the Minoru Centre for Active Living is providing low-cost takeout meals during the pandemic — priced the same for everyone regardless of age.

The seniors centre closed down in March — just days after celebrating its first anniversary — along with most public facilities in Richmond to stop the spread of COVID-19, but the Minoru Seniors Society was able to keep its kitchen going for takeout in order to feed those isolated at home.

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Meal discounts at the seniors centre usually kick in at age 55 — but for now, everyone gets a meal for the same price: $7.

Bill Sorenson, second vice-president with the seniors society, picks up orders for other seniors living in his building, often taking four to eight meals to his neighbours every day.

While the food provides nourishment for the body, Sorenson is concerned about seniors’ social isolation, those who took part in programs at the centre or those who just came for companionship.

“This has been a home away from home for a lot of people, and that’s been taken away,” Sorenson said. “I think some people virtually lived here.”

But health and safety come first, and seniors are among the most at-risk for COVID-19, said Kathleen Holmes, president of the seniors society.

“Just because we’re feisty doesn’t mean we’re not vulnerable,” she said.

Right after the shutdown, city staff called all 4,600 seniors society members, everyone they had a phone number for, and they identified any pressing needs.

But, Holmes said, she is concerned about those seniors they can’t reach who are isolated and don’t know how or whom to ask for help and support.

While the staff is largely gone now from the facility and therefore no longer able to reach out to isolated seniors, their phone lines are open if anyone needs help, explained Holmes.

The new seniors centre was growing in popularity — the society’s membership doubled in its first year — and its programming was growing.

That all came to a halt in mid-March as Richmondites hunkered down to stop the spread of the virus.

The shutdown has meant a large drop in revenue for the seniors society, and they have since laid off four staff members.

The cafeteria was bringing in about $400 a day in revenue before the pandemic, but that has been cut in half.

Programming and membership renewals were other sources of revenue, but those have also been steeply affected.

Thanks to a $3,000 grant from Richmond Cares Richmond Gives and using the federal wage subsidy, the kitchen has now been able to bring in more staff to prepare low-cost meals for the community.

Now after three months of shutdown, the centre is starting to draw people back to its periphery, for takeout meals, to sit outside and gather in physically distanced groups.

“(Seniors are) starting to migrate back to the building,” Holmes said. 

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