SOUTH EUCLID, Ohio — Even as communities begin to rebound, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic are still hitting our most vulnerable populations hard - especially seniors. Many of them aren’t able to go out and get even the basic necessities they need.
A Cleveland-based restaurant is stepping up big time to help them get the nourishment they need by delivering thousands of free meals to seniors throughout Cuyahoga County.
Since the beginning of April, the staff at Black Box Fix - a gourmet sandwich shop - have been providing those meals daily, using their own resources and doing their own outreach on social media.
“We started hearing talks in the community. So we started to engage right away,” said LaRese Purnell, a co-owner of Black Box Fix. “In times like this right now, because things are kind of rolling back where people are going to work, you see things reopening. We don't realize that need still exists.”
Purnell says calls started pouring in from people needing meals delivered to their elderly parents, grandparents, and neighbors. He says the volume quickly grew to 1,000 meals per day to 10,000 meals over the last several weeks and increasing still.
“The Western Reserve Agency on Aging reached out to us about partnering to make sure that we could expand our efforts,” Purnell said.
That partnership means 100,000 meals will be delivered to seniors in under-served communities in Cuyahoga County over the next six months.
“So we’re in East Cleveland, Cleveland, those that are in you know, the urban communities that really have a need that can't get out and get a daily meal or don't have resources to leave a senior facility and things of that nature,” said Eric Rogers, chef and a co-owner of Black Box Fix.
Each senior gets one meal daily. Most of the meals are prepared by Black Box Fix staff in their catering facility in South Euclid. Deliveries are made Monday through Friday with the help of a local transportation company.
“Daily chef-inspired gourmet meals from scratch, we’re using local purveyors and local entities to get fresh ingredients. Over the years, we've heard the stories of how senior meals can be bland and boring and things like that. So we're trying to bring a different take on, you know, a gourmet meal, healthy meal and getting all those nourishments to our seniors in need,” Rogers said.
Rogers says it's a big undertaking, but one they’re equipped to handle.
“We've been blessed to employ out-of-work chefs, people that are coming in that I'm mentoring, doing opportunities. As you can see, we're working around the clock trying to, you know, prepare these meals and just, you know, do our best to give back but also know that what we're doing is making an impact in Cleveland,” Rogers said.
Purnell says seeing the reaction from the seniors who receive their meals makes the experience that much more fulfilling.
“It’s really amazing, just to see the smiles on their faces. And as we're walking away from the door because we're social distancing as a part of this and being respectful to that and them and their health. They're just like, 'Bye, can't wait to see you tomorrow!'” Purnell said.
Anyone interested in signing up for the program should call the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging at (216)-586-3409. Staff will ask a few questions to make sure the senior is a fit for the program and then get them on the schedule for meal delivery.
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