Healthy Aging El Jebel keeps helping those most at risk |

Healthy Aging El Jebel keeps helping those most at risk

Healthy Aging Program Coordinator Mandi Dicamillo, right, hands Marylou Felton her lunch in the doorway of the Eagle County Community Center on Thursday, March 19, 2020. People at the community center put lunches together for senior citizens every Tuesday and Thursday. Now that there is a restriction to gathering, the meals are mostly being delivered to homes. This Thursday, the crew put together 55 meals. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

When the threat of coronavirus first rippled through the Roaring Fork Valley, Eagle County suspended bringing senior citizens together for meals and activities at the El Jebel Community Center on March 11.

But the coordinator of the county program Healthy Aging El Jebel and a small army of volunteers have rallied to keep the good deeds going in trying time. Healthy Aging El Jebel is providing exercise classes online Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and providing meals via home delivery or pick-up Tuesdays and Thursdays.

It’s an effort to add a little certainty at an uncertain time for people age 60 and older, said Mandi Dicamillo, coordinator of the program in El Jebel.

“They’re the most vulnerable population,” she said.

She stressed that the adapted program was approved by the state of Colorado and continued by Eagle County. The program is proving popular with midvalley seniors.

“Here at the site, we would have around 50 people for lunches” pre-coronavirus days, Dicamillo said. Thursday they provided 55 meals.

Friends Sue Carnahan and Marylou Felton were among those who drove to the Community Center to pick up their lunch Thursday.

“I really appreciate that they took the time to work this out,” Carnahan said. “I like to cook but the meals are really helpful and we love Mandi. She really takes care of us.”

Felton said the program is fantastic “even though we can’t socialize like we used to.”

Another woman picking up a meal appreciated an opportunity to get out and about.

“It breaks up the routine of being in the house,” Ida Burnaman said. “It’s a nice treat having something different than (what) I cooked.”

Alan Kokish, owner of Custom Catering, cooks the meals. He started working with Healthy Aging El Jebel three years ago as a sidelight to his commercial venture. It has evolved into a favorite part of his business, he said.

The meals “check several boxes” on the nutrition front, Kokish said, but they are delicious as well as healthy.

St. Patty’s Day featured corned beef and cabbage, carrots and potatoes, and grasshopper pie. On Thursday, it was short rib shepherd’s pie, mixed vegetables and a lemon square.

Kokish said he’s developed a relationship with many of the seniors who attended the meals at the community center. He’s happy to be part of one of many efforts in the valley to help those most at risk.

“Everyone’s been pitching in,” he said.

The majority of the seniors have a meal delivered. Dicamillo said midvalley residents have been generous with their time. She has multiple volunteers on a list.

Mary Kenyon is among the delivery drivers. She is director of “Valley Meals and More,” a program of the nonprofit Senior Matters, which aids seniors in the midvalley. It’s an effort that started before the health crisis but got magnified.

The “and more” covers just about any kind of errand, such as picking up prescriptions.

“We ask them if they need anything more while we’re there,” Kenyon said. “It’s not difficult work at all. We’re just looking to fill that gap.”

The volunteers get a background check via Eagle County. Meals and prescriptions get dropped off at the door of the recipients while deliverers maintain a proper social distance.

Kenyon said data collected by Garfield County estimates there are nearly 5,000 adults aged 60 and older between Glenwood Springs and the county line in the midvalley. Take away the estimated 2,000 living in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale and that leaves about 3,000 senior adults living in rural, remote and isolated areas. The demand for services will grow as the health scare continues.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Kenyon said.

Valley Meals and More can be reached at 970-274-2632 for help.

Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt is helping launch a volunteer effort to assist seniors in the midvalley with errands. If seniors prepay for groceries, medications or take-out food from restaurants, a volunteer with the organization will deliver the goods, following proper social distancing.

“You can chat with them but you can’t cross the threshold,” Whitsitt said, stressing they will maintain a distance of 6 feet or more after knocking on the door.

“We’re trying to help people who are self-isolating and really need to stay at home,” she said.

Seniors who want to use the service, Corona Helpline, should call 970-230-1974. Leave a message if someone isn’t immediately available.

Photographer Kelsey Brunner contributed to this report.