Valley Program for Aging Services’ Meals on Wheels program originally began as a volunteer-based drop-in service delivering a friendly smile and nourishing meals to older adults. But when the pandemic threatened the safety of adults over 65, VPAS transformed the service into a means of getting meals, groceries and activities to sustain the well-being of increasingly vulnerable clients.
On Friday, all sales from Brothers Craft Brewing’s beer infusion, The Navigator, will benefit VPAS in sync with the organization’s annual March for Meals.
VPAS serves older adults in Rockingham, Augusta, Rockbridge, Bath and Highland counties, and the cities therein. Over the course of the pandemic, Meals on Wheels saw a 33% increase in clients from Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.
March for Meals is VPAS’s monthlong celebration of the food delivery program, and the older adults who rely on the service to stay independent at home.
Beth Bland, director of senior services, said Meals on Wheels became a lifeline for several clients over the past year.
“We were delivering emergency groceries because when COVID hit, older adults were told to stay home because they’re the population most at risk for being in harm,” Bland said. “We had people calling saying, ‘I’m scared to go to the grocery store. I have no way to get groceries.’ And for people who really weren’t tech savvy, they can’t do grocery pickup.”
Those most at-risk received produce boxes and hygiene bags, and recipients also received activity packets to find means of occupying time besides sitting in front of the TV.
A Bowl of Good began partnering with Valley Program for Aging Services in October 2019 to provide healthy, hardy meals for Meals on Wheels. When the pandemic struck, production of bulk meals for delivery shifted from within a facility to entirely out of Harrisonburg’s global cuisine eatery.
“They were able to very quickly make the adjustments that we needed to make,” Bland said. “In fact, at one point early on in the pandemic, they were not only providing meals for the Harrisonburg-Rockingham region, they were also providing meals for Augusta County, Lexington and Rockbridge.”
Throughout March, A Bowl of Good is selling $15 “buy one, give one” Meals on Wheel-style dishes to support Meals on Wheels.
A Bowl of Good owner Katrina Didot has close family who receive Meals on Wheels and said she loves partnering with Valley Program for Aging Services for the program because it is consistent with the restaurant’s values as “dot connectors.”
“We really feel this is a way we’re connecting with a vulnerable population with a definite need,” Didot said. “It’s been a nice addition to what we’re already doing.”
VPAS has partnered with Brothers Craft for four years but came short of having an event in 2020. Last year, A Bowl of Good staff was gearing up for their first Cask for a Cause event mere weeks before the reality of COVID-19 brought in a sea of restrictions and concerns.
It was the brewery’s first event to land on the chopping block.
Looking back, taproom manager Josh Harold said he’s glad the 2021 event can move forward in support of VPAS.
“We had to pull the plug pretty quickly on it. We decided to do a cask infusion because we kind of saw the writing on the wall and knew we had to make a call,” Harold said. “Last year, they were supposed to be on-site with us doing the food and were unable to, so yeah, glad to have them this year.”
During Friday’s event, A Bowl of Good will have packaged plates of cabbage with corned beef hash, pumpernickel bread and hot cinnamon apples for sale in the same tray Meals on Wheels recipients receive to raise awareness of the program. The Navigator is a dry hop beer with notes of tangerine, and all sales of the cask will benefit VPAS.
“It’s kind of a play off their slogan anyways and tying it to the beer, The Navigator. Their tagline for the business is, ‘Navigating Age Together,’” Harold said.
Bland said she’s overjoyed to partner with both the brewery and restaurant, which are stars in the area that constantly strive to uplift others.
“These two businesses should be commended for supporting the community and supporting older adults, which is a group that doesn’t often get attention in this way,” Bland said. “We’re thrilled to be a part of it.”