Though meal services at senior centers in Eastern Jackson County have closed over concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, home delivery is “fully operational.”

For now.

James Stowe, the director of aging and adult services at the Mid-America Regional Council, said that while MARC’s Home Delivered Meals Service in Eastern Jackson County and the metro area is working at full capacity now, he expects demand to sharply rise soon.

“We’re anticipating a dramatic increase in demand in the coming weeks,” Stowe said. “We’re expecting it to double or triple. … And we’re starting to experience a national shortage of meals.”

Stowe said that demand is expected to rise because MARC has closed its three senior centers in Eastern Jackson County – the Palmer Center in Independence, Vesper Hall in Blue Springs and the Oak Grove Senior Center. Those sites had been serving meals for seniors at those sites but are closed until further notice.

Meg Lewis, a spokesperson for the city of Independence, said they are now working with MARC to serve the seniors who had been eating at the Palmer Center by switching it to a home delivery service.

“We’re working with MARC on that and it’s still being finalized,” Lewis said.

Stowe also expects seniors who weren’t being served home meals or eating at senior centers might turn to home delivery because of the social distancing aspect of the pandemic.

Stowe said that while current clients of the meal service are being fully served, he is worried that the expected rise in demand will tax MARC’s ability to procure food.

“We are now instituting our emergency procurement protocol system,” Stowe said. “We have reached out to other centers in Missouri and Indiana to help us and send some food. We’re expecting the next truck to arrive on March 30.

“I think the main impact of it is that we won’t be able to help new clients for a while. But everyone we’re serving now should be taken care of through that (March 30) time frame.”

Ken Burnett, who works for the NorthWest Communities Development Corporation’s Fairmount Community Center in Independence, says they are also continuing meal delivery service to seniors. He said they prepare as many as 125 meals a day.

“We are still operating, and we will continue to operate as long as they will allow us to,” Burnett said. “We plan to keep on doing it.”

MARC’s meal delivery service is serving approximately 2,500 meals per day, Stowe said, and that is continuing, though how they deliver meals has been changed.

“We’re dramatically altering our protocols in how we serve the meals,” Stowe said. “We are continuing to practice proper hygiene and we are practicing good hand hygiene as well.

“And we are no longer allowed to have any contact with the clients. We are making sure we stay at least six feet away from others, per guidelines. Many of the older adults we serve have compromised immunities, so we don’t want to do anything to endanger that.”

Stowe explained that instead of hand delivering the meals to the elderly, workers and volunteers are delivering the meals to front doors, then returning to their vehicles. Then they make sure the seniors come out to get the meals before they leave.

Some seniors are served frozen meals and some are served hot meals. They are looking into adding the number of frozen meals per stop so there is less chance for contact. They usually deliver three frozen meals or one hot meal.

“Now, in some instances, we are delivering 10 frozen meals at a time,” Stowe said. “And we might have to suspend hot meal delivery soon.”

Burnett said Fairmount’s Meals on Wheels serves approximately 125 clients a day. Meals are delivered to a church in downtown Kansas City and then distributed to those in need. He said it may switch to delivery drivers coming to Fairmount and then distributing the meals.

Fairmount also closed its meals being served at the center but is offering a carry-out lunch that seniors may pick up, though he said the response to that has been minimal.

Burnett also said that workers at Fairmount are taking extra steps to make sure they sanitize equipment and utensils more often.

“We’re taking every precaution,” Burnett said. “We want to make sure that the safety of our seniors is our top priority.”