Contributed by Trista Genova, MHC’s Member Services Manager
When COVID hit we were told on a Thursday that we were looking at closing the Independence Center (IC), MHC’s Recovery Resource Center. By the following Monday we were closed. The IC, located in downtown Waterbury is a safe environment for individuals with mental health conditions to come together to gain the knowledge, skills, and confidence to achieve their personal goals. We have a computer lab, art studio, culinary art program, food pantry, and abundance of social areas for people to engage with their peers and the community.
That Monday in March, we had to lock down the entire building and it was pretty shocking that it happened so quickly. Immediately I thought, “can we do something with food, something to keep people connected?” and it took us a little time to get there because the whole program, the whole agency had to shift. I’m very thankful that MHC had the resources in place that we did not miss a beat. We were able to continue with our outreach phone calls. We were able to talk to our members on a daily basis, which we still do. We saw that food was such an important piece of the IC. People would come here every day before COVID for their breakfast and lunch.
The IC is family for a lot of people. We have a lot of members who don’t have family. They don’t have anywhere else to go or anywhere else to be. We are that place and that family for our members and what brings families together? Food! Not only that, but knowing that somebody cares about you and wants to be sure you are okay. We had to bring this back however we could to our members and our team made it happen. If the members couldn’t come to us for meals, we decided to bring meals to them.
We started with 20 members on week one, then we added another 20 the following week. Now, over 7 months later, we deliver home-cooked meals to anywhere between 70-80 members each week. This includes five meals, 2 snacks, supplies from our food bank, and even the occasional custom request. We’ve had members ask for special teas or even a sketch book so they could keep up with their art in lieu of being able to come to our art studio. Thanks to the financial support of the United Way of Greater Waterbury and the Connecticut Community Foundation, we have been able to serve so many of our members when they need us most.
Our staff have put their heart and soul into this new program and it’s not easy. We have a limited period of time to get the food, plan the menus, cook and prepare the meals, package the food, create labels, put the bags together, load the van, call the members to coordinate deliveries and do wellness checks – this is a weekly routine now. We are so happy we are able to do this for our members. They may not see anyone else that week but they know that IC van is going to pull up around 1 o’clock on Wednesday or 3 o’clock on Thursday and we will be there with something special for them. And it’s not just any food. We try to sneak in the good things too. We sneak in the vegetables and create balanced meals. We provide wholesome, healthy food so they are not going down to the bodega and grabbing a Little Debbie’s snack.
Our goal is to nourish them physically, emotionally, and spiritually and show them that we care. We want them to know that we are going to prepare you a loving home-cooked meal, we will bring it right to your door, and we are going to call you every single week to make sure you are there to receive it; and if you don’t pick up we call you back 5 times until you do pick up.
We didn’t know what to expect with COVID-19 but no matter how far we’ve had to shift the way we work, it didn’t change the “why we work.” Our members are our family and we take care of our family.
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