West Jordan’s senior meal delivery service came at just the right time for Janice Lamm.
“Grandmothers are supposed to do certain things,” Lamm said. “Thanksgiving? Shrimp salad. Christmas? Cookies and cookies and cookies and cookies.
The program was meant to be temporary, and Lamm was dismayed when it officially ended in January.
But now the city is preparing to relaunch what program manager Lisa Elgin described as a “very successful” initiative. The program was a win-win for seniors who needed food, businesses who needed customers, and a local delivery service who wanted to support the community.
“People here have really enjoyed it, especially some people that money is tighter for them than it is for me, and mine is so tight I have to cut my pennies in half to get 2 cents,” Lamm said. .
Money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds the program, which provides meals at area restaurants to residents of western Jordan over the age of 65. Preference is given to people with low to moderate income.
“We have funds – it’s just a matter of moving them around and being able to use them,” Elgin said. “It’s just a little tricky.”
Elgin says seniors won’t see much difference in how the program works or who qualifies because most of the changes have been internal.
“By the middle (of the first lap) we had ironed out all the issues and everything was going really well,” Elgin said.
The smooth running of the program looked like about 6,500 meals delivered to 99 seniors at the end of the 18-week program. Of these participants, 81 were in the very low income category and 40 were people with disabilities.
The elderly were not the only group to benefit, however – most meals were provided by local restaurants in West Jordan, hence the program’s name, the Restaurant Assistance Grant.
“We had two goals in mind,” said West Jordan senior analyst Jeremy Olsen. “One was obviously to provide meal deliveries to the elderly so they didn’t have to go to a store or a restaurant, but the other was to help some of the restaurants that had lost business. during lockdown periods.”
The program isn’t currently accepting applications, but Elgin hopes to have the program running again in about two months. Participation will still only require proof of residency and a completed application on the city’s website. After they are done, the elders choose which meals they would like to receive.
Restaurants sign up for the program, create a menu and choose how to deliver the food. Then, after receiving $24,900 from West Jordan’s federal pandemic relief funds, restaurants get to work feeding people. When they run out of funds, usually between six and nine weeks, restaurants can reapply.
Former restaurants on the list included Dairy Queen – a favorite of Lamm residents – Spudtoddos, Vegan Bowl and Sofia’s Doner Kebab Express.
“We are very happy that this program has come and that it has been created. I think the program is very good,” said Nailya Ragimova, owner of Doner Kebab Express in Sofia. “I hope this will continue.”
Continuing to be part of the community is the most rewarding part for Ragimova. The meal delivery program, along with other government aid, has helped his Turkish restaurant remain a staple in western Jordan. From now on, the Sofia Doner Kebab Express will be back on the program.
Starting the Seniors Meal Program proved to be a challenge. Between staffing shortages that limited the number of restaurants that applied and with fewer seniors participating than Elgin had hoped, Elgin said the program has essentially taken over his life.
The biggest delay was finding a suitable delivery service – Elgin initially tried Grubhub, Uber Eats and DoorDash to no avail.
Luckily, a new option has come along: a delivery service called Chefpanzee that only delivers food from local Utah businesses. For co-founder Indu Sudhakar, participating in the senior meals program is a way to stay true to Chefpanzee’s dedication to supporting Utah restaurants.
“We’ve seen this a lot with major delivery services where there’s hesitation if the monetary value is there,” Sudhakar said. “It makes me happy that we’re sticking with this part of our business and being able to be a part of opportunities like this.”
Sudhakar said Chefpanzee is still in the growth phase of the business, but a priority is to charge restaurants a low commission rate; while the typical commission rate for larger delivery services is between 30% and 40%, Chefpanzee charges 10%.
“I think we were lucky to find them when we did at the time,” said finance liaison Olsen. “Once they were able to find a solution with the restaurants, it finally became a workable program.”
Sudhakar said Utah’s culture of local support was a “pleasant shock” and she would like to see something similar expand to other cities.
“I think, honestly, it’s a product of living in Utah,” she said. “It’s just the usability.”
Elgin said Chefpanzee would return to the program to continue delivering. Meanwhile, after Elgin recovers from COVID-19, she hopes to “recover immediately” when the program restarts.
“Planners don’t often get a lot of opportunities to really feel good about what they’re doing,” Elgin said. “It was an incredible opportunity. I absolutely loved going out there.