TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Staff at Mission BBQ in Temple Terrace package up ribs and sides, ready for pickup.
Instead of being passed to a customer or Uber Eats driver waiting outside, the meals are handed over to Heriberto Pichardo, Senior Drive for Hillsborough County’s Sunshine Line, who sets off to deliver the meals to isolated senior citizens.
“People need it – they’re out there, and I know we have a lot of people in need, and it’s great, it’s great,” says Pichardo, one of the Hillsborough County employees who helps support the Department of Aging Services Silver Platter program.
“It’s a win-win for seniors and the restaurant community,” says Mary Jo McCabe, Nutrition and Wellness Manager for Aging Services.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Silver Platter was initiated and supported by state agencies, including the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, Department of Business and Professional Regulation, and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.
Aging Services uses funding from the Families First Act and the CARES Act to support Silver Platter.
Prior to the pandemic, thousands of senior citizens in Hillsborough County received food assistance from the county’s senior dining centers, which have been closed for months.
Dining center staff now assist with the Silver Platter program, which helps provide approximately 4,500 senior citizens with two-week supplies of frozen lunches, and more than 1,000 seniors receive hot dinners.
The hot-meal delivery first launched in southern Hillsborough County, targeting areas with fewer restaurants.
“We partnered with local food trucks, about 14, to service that area, and we slowly started to expand to include other vendors,” says Brian Taylor, a registered dietitian for the Department of Aging Services. Taylor ensures that the meals provided to seniors are nutritious and well balanced.
Initially, fewer than 200 senior citizens were receiving the hot meals once or twice per week. Silver Platter grew its partnership to include local restaurants. Currently, three restaurants are providing meals, and a fourth is coming online soon, according to McCabe.
One of those local locations includes three Mission BBQ locations who collectively prepare and package 350 to 550 SIlver Platter meals each week, according to Matthew Singley, General Manager of the Temple Terrace restaurant.
“I think it really warms up their hearts, warms up their souls, and that’s what it does for us, too,” Singley says.
Pichardo explains that drivers follow protocols when delivering the meals. First, they set up a stool in front of the senior’s home, set down the meals, knock on the door, and step back while waiting for the client to pick up their delivery. This keeps seniors safe in a socially distant way, of course, but it’s also an opportunity to check on the welfare of the older generations.
McCabe says that during one delivery, a senior didn’t respond to collect the meal. Concerned, the driver dialed 911, and first responders found the citizen in distress inside. After hospital treatment, the senior is back at home and looks forward to the weekly dinner deliveries.
While Silver Platter initially began as an initiative encouraged by state leaders, Hillsborough County has provided funding to continue the program through the end of 2020. McCabe is optimistic the program, or elements of it, will continue beyond the pandemic.
To learn more about the Silver Platter program, and other programs offered by Hillsborough County Aging Services, call (813) 272-5250 or visit Hillsborough County Aging Services website for more information.