As the coronavirus pandemic wears on, more senior meals are being delivered throughout the region, but eating in-person is still preferred, officials said.

Chrystal Wiese, the Senior Round Table site director in Clarkston, said all of her clients are looking forward to the day they can once again gather together to share a meal.

“Everyone wants to know when we can reopen,” Wiese said. “They really miss eating together at the meal site.”

Site managers in Washington and Idaho are hoping to get that green light this month, but say it will depend on the COVID-19 numbers, along with each state and counties’ reopening phases.

In Moscow, the Friendly Neighbors Senior Citizens group has targeted May 18 as its reopening day at the 1912 Center site, President Bill Terrio said. During the first two weeks of this month, the organization is hosting a social hour between 11 a.m. and noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays, before the “grab-and-go” meal pickup time.

Scot McGee, kitchen manager of Lewiston’s Senior Nutrition Program, said he’s crossing his fingers to begin offering congregate meals sometime this month, but recognizes it’s “a fluid situation.”

Between daily meal deliveries and curbside pickup lunches on Monday, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, McGee’s organization is producing roughly 140 meals a day.

“While we have seen a decline in congregate meals for obvious reasons, our deliveries have increased by about 20 percent,” he said. “Every month, we are setting new records for deliveries, at least in the five years I have been running the program.”

Although deliveries have picked up, Wiese said the pandemic has taken an emotional toll on seniors who have been stuck at home for the past year. She and her staff are eager to welcome them back to meal sites in Clarkston and Asotin, as soon as safely possible.

In southeastern Washington, that will likely occur when counties reach Phase 4 of the governor’s recovery plan. Asotin and Garfield counties are in Phase 3, and Whitman County just slipped back to Phase 2.

“Social isolation is a huge challenge, especially with the pandemic,” Wiese said.

She has noticed changes in her own father, who used to play pinochle and visit with friends at the Senior Round Table site. He has become withdrawn and lies around more, Wiese said. Brain stimulation is important for retirees, along with social time.

“All my seniors say the same thing, that they miss their friends, and the social interaction is invaluable,” McGee agreed. “I think, if anything, this pandemic has proven the fact that my staff and I miss seeing their faces as well.”

In addition to the pandemic, Wiese is facing funding challenges to keep her kitchen in operation. The Asotin County Senior Round Table program receives 70 percent of its funding from Southeast Washington Aging and Long Term Care, but has to rely on donations and fundraising to make up the difference, she said.

This year, Senior Round Table is tasked with raising $34,200. The organization has to cover its rent at the Valley Community Center in Clarkston, along with various other expenses.

“We don’t get any funding help from Asotin County or the city of Clarkston,” Wiese said. “We don’t have big auctions or community fundraising events like other organizations, so we really do need donations.”

The Senior Round Table operates under the umbrella of the Walla Walla Senior Center. Before the pandemic, senior meals were being served in four counties — Asotin, Garfield, Columbia and Walla Walla — at six meal sites. The nonprofit group served 81,000 meals in its four counties in 2019, and delivered 126,000 meals in 2020.

Asotin County’s numbers went from 19,447 meals in 2019, to 21,429 in 2020. The program helps a variety of older folks in need of healthy food, including those who are malnourished, recovering from surgery or living alone. The menu is always dietician approved, the site manager said.

“We couldn’t do this without our volunteers and financial contributions,” Wiese said.

Sandaine may be contacted at kerris@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2264. Follow her on Twitter @newsfromkerri.

Can you help?

The Senior Round Table, which primarily focuses on Asotin County residents, is funded through the state, grants and donations. Anyone who is interested in volunteering, making a donation or having a meal delivered can contact Chrystal Wiese at (509) 758-3816. Drivers are reimbursed 53 cents per mile and receive a complimentary meal. The work usually starts around 9:30 a.m. and wraps up around noon, she said.