Pandemic or not, Polk organization delivers 1,800 Thanksgiving meals to the elderly

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – In a year when isolation is at an all-time high, Volunteers In Service to the Elderly (VISTE) made sure it could safely deliver Thanksgiving meals to senior citizens in western Polk County.

“Hi Jean. How are you?” asked a VISTE employee outside a screen door in Lakeland.

There aren’t many friendly faces coming into Jean Van Hagen’s home in 2020.

“They’re all afraid to come in for fear they’ll bring me something,” she said.

On Wednesday, she got a Thanksgiving dinner, delivered at a safe distance.

VISTE delivers meals to Van Hagen twice a week.

“I think it’s great. even if you can’t visit,” she said.

Her desire for interaction is why VISTE figured out a way to safely deliver 1,800 Thanksgiving meals to the elderly Wednesday.

It’s VISTE’s 24th time doing this the day before Thanksgiving but COVID-19 has a way of making every tradition new again.

“We have completely re-imagined how to do this in a safe way,” said Steve Bissonnette, VISTE president.

The people preparing the food were masked and gloved.

Employees at Levy, a food and beverage concessionaire company, stepped up to help provide and prepare the food.

They are waiting final approval for a contract at RP Funding Center where the Thanksgiving dinners are prepared and distributed every year.

“This is our way of saying ‘Hey, we’re here. We’re here to help. We want to be good neighbors and good partners in the community’,” said Levy’s Jan Taylor.

An event that usually attracts hundreds of volunteers and long assembly lines was scaled back.

People who signed up to deliver the meals stayed in their cars and received the meals in a drive-thru setting.

“They’ve all pre-registered online and chosen a window of time they’re going to show up in their car,” said Bissonette.

Bissonnette said some seniors were home alone for the first time for Thanksgiving, as family gatherings are discouraged during the pandemic.

Others felt weary of having someone deliver food to their home.

“They deal with social isolation all the time but it’s profound right now when many of them haven’t even been able to get out of their house at all,” said Bissonette.

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