High school seniors brighten mealtime for isolated seniors

Residents at one continuing care community are delivered smiles along with dinner.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Mealtimes at senior living facilities are typically a time for socialization and interaction with other residents, but the coronavirus pandemic has changed all that. Residents now get meals delivered to their rooms and end up eating alone.

The foodservice team at Phoebe Berks senior living community in Wernersville, Pa., has found a way to combat that loneliness without jeopardizing residents’ health. High school seniors are reaching across the generations, delivering cheer along with meals.

The dining program, managed by Cura Hospitality, employs 19 high school students as part-time workers along with the full-time staff. Under the direction of Lauren Brubaker and Tanya Cone, Phoebe Berks’ dining services managers, the students help assemble and deliver breakfast, lunch and dinner daily to residents’ rooms—1,000 meals in total. To lift the spirits of isolated seniors, the high schoolers began drawing pictures and writing affectionate messages on the takeout containers.

Alyssa Dzurkovich, a high school senior who works as a server and dietary aide, feels that she and her peers are making a difference in the lives of the residents, helping them to remain positive during this challenging time. “The residents are very sweet people,” she says. “They thank us by writing us notes or messaging back.” Seven of the students also volunteer to grocery shop for 90 of the independent living residents.

The transition to meal delivery was speedy, but not without its challenges, says Mark Olszewski, Cura GM of dining at Phoebe Berks. Just prior to the pandemic, more than 130 residents were being served their meals in the facility’s auditorium as the community dining rooms went through an extensive renovation. “The dining team is currently using the auditorium to assemble meals, but will soon move to the newly renovated dining areas for assembly,” he says.




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