Smallwood Center Staff Stays Connected To Its Members During COVID Crisis
Randy Hayne, 68, meticulously packs and then folds the tops of 30 brown paper lunch bags in the nearly empty dining hall of the Donna Smallwood Activities Center, located behind Parma City Hall. Retired from his Borden Dairy supervisor job one year ago, the Parma resident started working at the Smallwood Center in January, pre-COVID and before it shuttered in early March. The West Ridgewood Drive multipurpose center, which serves Parma area seniors, closed before the governor’s directive, a proactive move to protect its vulnerable 6,000 members. Two other workers, whose faces are partially hidden with face masks, physically distance themselves as they pack lunches with gloved hands. In the kitchen, three staff members fill and then seal food trays for hot meal deliveries. After all the meals are packaged, half the staff members stay to clean the kitchen, while the other three leave to deliver meals.
Hayne is one of the drivers who places the packaged food into huge fabric thermal containers. He grabs a clipboard of papers listing clients’ names and addresses and heads out. For the next few hours, he will drive through Parma neighborhoods, knocking on doors, dropping off meals and making sure recipients respond with a corresponding knock, wave or holler. Sometimes a driver must repeat a trip to a house if he doesn’t get a response the first time. The lack of face-to-face communication protects the meal recipients and delivery drivers, who are also senior citizens. All meal delivery times are recorded to make certain no one on the list misses a meal.
5,000 meals and counting
Since the pandemic began, Hayne and staff members have prepared each weekday 100 homebound and community meals for a total of more than 5,000 meals.
Smallwood Center Director JoAnn Mason explains that the homebound meals are for registered residents over age 60 who are frail, live alone and cannot cook. The community delivered meals are for those who have a slightly more expendable income. “Both programs have more than doubled over the past few months. When they are full, we start a wait list. Thanks to our funding source, Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging, waiting has been miniscule,” she says.
In addition to the weekday morning Cleveland Food Bank deliveries to Smallwood Center, Colozza’s Bakery has donated bakery. “Angelo, his wife Joan and his father John have always been generous to the Parma community,” Mason says.
“It’s a wonderful program. It saves the day for me. I am grateful with a capital G!” says Joyce, 79, a meal recipient.
“This is something that they need because they can’t do what they used to do when they were younger,” says Hayne, who commits to delivering rain or shine. “I might be the only person they hear from all day. It makes me feel good to provide this service.”
Meal deliveries is not the only way the Smallwood Center has helped its members. Mason reached out to Senior Transportation Connection to help 50 registered members get to their critical medical appointments over the past two months.
The staff has also maintained a relationship with members through phone calls. “Drivers, office staff, the case manager and I have made calls almost daily to registered members. Our members have left such a positive impression on us. There is no way we would forget them,” Mason says.
Pat, 77, praises the staff for everything they have done. “The meals, the drivers and the entire Center are wonderful. The Center is a beautiful place with a wonderful staff who are always there to help,” she says.
Carolyn J. Kovach
Director of Communications, City of Parma, Mayor's Office