Marin pandemic meal delivery program continues

  • Caterer Debbie Ghiringhelli places the quiche on a shelf to chill it as she and her team prepare meals for the Marin Great Plates program in San Rafael on Friday, May 14, 2021. The program was set up to provide meals to qualified seniors sheltering in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Sherry LaVars / Marin Independent Journal)

  • Elvin Ochoa of Debbie Ghiringhelli Catering returns a filet mignon in San Rafael on Friday, May 14, 2021 (Sherry LaVars / Marin Independent Journal)

  • Driver Charles Helbig chats with restaurant owner Debbie Ghiringhelli before setting off to deliver meals for the Marin Great Plates program in San Rafael on Friday, May 14, 2021 (Sherry LaVars / Marin Independent Journal)

  • Jessica Walter wraps scones while Michael Redding and Elvin Ochoa prepare food at Debbie Ghiringhelli Catering in San Rafael on Friday, May 14, 2021. The company participates in the Marin Great Plates program, set up to provide meals to seniors qualified housed in San Rafael. taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Sherry LaVars / Marin Independent Journal)

Marin Great Plates, a project to support both sequestered seniors and struggling food vendors during the pandemic, will continue through September, even as the coronavirus crisis eases.

“Although the majority of Marin seniors are fully vaccinated and restaurants are starting to open with fewer restrictions, there is still a win-win benefit to continuing the Great Plates program,” Benita McLarin, director of the Department of Health. Marin County Health and Human Services, told county supervisors last month.

“Some of the program providers depend on weddings, events and major parties for the bulk of their income,” McLarin said, “and until these events are able to fully open, our businesses local communities still face financial risks. This program remains a lifeline for local businesses and seniors.

The program pays local restaurants and other food companies to deliver meals to seniors who stay at home to avoid the virus. Health regulations have forced restaurants to drastically cut indoor service since the pandemic erupted last year.

Until April 3, the Federal Emergency Management Agency funded 75% of the program; the state paid 18.5%; and participating vendors recouped the remaining 6.5%. Now FEMA covers the full cost, although the county has to pay all the money.

So far, the county has been reimbursed $ 538,909 of the $ 6 million it spent on the program.

“We have also requested the reimbursement of $ 2.66 million, which FEMA has committed to pay us, but we have not yet received it,” said Kari Beuerman, director of social services for Marin County. .

On April 10, when county supervisors extended the program to September 30, they also approved the addition of 83 more people as meal recipients.

To be eligible, participants must be aged 65 or over or over 60 and have a high-risk medical condition. They should not receive assistance from other national or federal nutritional assistance programs. Their annual income must be $ 74,940 or less and they must affirm their inability to prepare or obtain meals.

“One of the reasons we decided to expand to more attendees is to keep trying to help restaurants,” Beuerman said. “Many restaurants and caterers are still struggling.”

Nonetheless, Beuerman said the number of participating vendors had increased from 28 to 15.

“Some of them have chosen to refocus on another business model such as dining,” she said.

Beuerman said that while the initial impetus for the program was to allow older residents of Marin at risk of COVID-19 infection to stay at home, “that has changed somewhat.

Beuerman said the county was considering requiring participants to drop out of the program once they were fully immunized, but rejected the idea.

“We didn’t want people to choose between having their meals delivered to restaurants and being vaccinated,” she said.

At this point, 88% of Marin residents aged 65 and over are fully immunized and 97% have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

San Rafael resident Allan Levinson and his wife, both aged 70, continue to receive breakfast, lunch and dinner through Marin Great Plates, even though they are vaccinated.

Levinson recently had shoulder replacement surgery, and before that, he completed radiation therapy and chemotherapy for esophageal cancer. He has prostate cancer.

Levinson said he and his wife still did not feel safe outside of their home, especially as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that those vaccinated no longer need to wear face masks. inside.

“Now that the masks are down,” Levinson said, “I don’t know who was vaccinated and who was not.

Levinson said he and his wife were earning too much on Social Security to qualify for other senior food delivery programs.

Debbie Ghiringhelli, a San Rafael caterer on the program, said: “For many of the people served by the program, their situation will not change even if COVID goes away. They have different ailments that keep them isolated. Many of these people are quite lonely. They live alone. Something like large plates is needed all the time for some people.

Ghiringhelli said customers have been slow to plan for crowded events requiring catering.

“I did a few events but not enough to keep my crew together,” she said.

Jeff Scharosch, general manager of the Spinnaker restaurant in Sausalito, said Marin Great Plates allowed him to keep his kitchen staff employed. Scharosch said the Spinnaker also provided indoor and outdoor service to the restaurant, but the income was not enough.

“Things aren’t going to change too much until we can move our seats closer together,” Scharosch said. “A distance of six feet limits you because you have little real estate between the tables.”

“We’ve already seen a lot of restaurants and event companies don’t get to this point,” said Scharosch, “and unfortunately we’re probably going to see a lot more failures.”

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