CINCINNATI — Charlotte Gill was used to being around people all the time until coronavirus hit. The 82-year-old worked at Heritage Bank, a job she held for over 20 years after “retiring” in 1996.
The pandemic forced her to give up the career she loved so she wouldn’t get sick, but the risks didn’t end when she left and went home. The retirement community she was living in had three COVID-19 outbreaks. Each one led to more isolation.
"The toughest time was during the pandemic,” Gill said. “For a while, I got kind of anxious. You just had to keep yourself going and you just had to tell yourself, 'It's going to get better.' But the isolation was really horrible."
A blessing and a saving grace during that time: meals from the Council on Aging of Southwest Ohio.
"We were getting stuff from Le Soup and you know, that's downtown, that's a good place,” she said. “And we were getting food from LaRosa’s and gourmet food places. It was good for me. It was wonderful because they kept us going."
The Council on Aging’s main focus is to make sure people 65 and older have food and connections to services they need. Demand for its services surged during the pandemic due to a shortage of home health care workers. To meet the need, the Council on Aging came up with a plan to pay chefs and locally owned restaurants to make healthy, high quality meals for hundreds of low-income seniors.
Invito Personal Chef owner Anthony Jordan’s team of four people made 13,000 of the 84,000 meals served through this program. He said seniors shouldn’t be given anything he wouldn’t eat.
"One day, this is going to flip. Somebody's going to be making meals for me,” Jordan said. “I'm going to be a senior. I want them to give me some quality stuff. I don't want it to be anything that's freeze-dried and frozen for two weeks and you just hand it to me. So we're going to take care of them."
During the pandemic, the seniors at Gill's housing complex were also hit with a power outage after a tornado outbreak. Residents had no food and no electricity while they were shut down during a global pandemic.
Renee Williams, the property manager, was in charge of keeping residents safe. It was at that time the Council on Aging came to the rescue.
"Council on Aging shows up with food from LaRosa’s feeding my seniors,” Williams said. "Here my seniors are without power, they're stuck in their homes and needing food. I'm like, 'What do we do?' And here comes the Council on Aging. It was tremendous. I cannot tell you how grateful we were.”
Now that health restrictions are lifted, Gill is looking forward to getting back to some sense of normalcy. She'll go back to work at the bank June 20, as long as everything goes as planned.
"I'm looking forward to that," she said. "I hope nothing else happens."
The Council on Aging won an innovation award from the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) for its meal program. The program is supported with funds provided through the Hamilton County CARES act.