“These are my sweet people,” said Milton resident Candy Schroeder, 73.

“Bringing the meals right now is the only way I can help them,” she said, adding: “Maybe someday it will be me, and somebody will have to do this for me.”

For the last 12 years, she said, she has been driving people in need of assistance to The Gathering Place for lunch.

Since Monday, March 16, she said, she has been delivering the lunches rather than driving the people.

The change came after The Gathering Place closed its on-site dining room as a precaution to help curb the spread of COVID-19, she said.

After the senior center closed, she began arriving at least three days a week to the facility’s parking lot around 11 a.m. to pick up meals packaged by the center’s volunteers and staff, and bring them to registered dine-in recipients who would have otherwise come to The Gathering Place for lunch.

Deciding against staying home, she said: “I feel healthy and energetic, and I have no underlying conditions,” adding that the meals are important to the people who receive them. Over the years, she said, she’s formed bonds and friendships with members of The Gathering Place, a facility, she, too enjoyed visiting for meals and other activities.

Schroeder picks up meals for three people, all of whom live in Milton, she said.

“One lady comes out to get the meal. She meets me at the car. I give her my Janesville Gazette and she loves it. We talk for a few minutes and I know her so we also text.

“I don’t know what she would do without the meals. She doesn’t have a car, so she can’t shop unless somebody takes her or she walks,” Schroeder said.

While her friend lives in an apartment building, she doesn’t often see people, Schroeder said,

For a second recipient, she said, “I go inside and open her milk for her and take the cover off of her meal. She is always so excited to see me. She’s in her 80s. I have been driving her for the whole 12 years.”

A third recipient comes to the door for her meal, Schroeder said.

“I think she does that to help me out. She is always so considerate. Even when I picked her up, she was always ready and waiting,” Schroeder said.

More volunteers are needed to help with the pickup process, Schroeder said.

Rock County Council on Aging Nutrition Program Supervisor Linda Hardie said the meal pickup program is in place as a result of COVID-19 precautions. The congregate meal program is really designed to provide nutritious meals in a social setting, she said.

Now that people can no longer gather, the meals are being offered for pickup and brought to registered recipients. Volunteers like Schroeder bring meals to some of those people, Hardie said.

Pickup meals can be delivered between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., Hardie said.

The congregate lunchtime meal program, also known as senior dining offered at The Gathering Place, is available to anyone age 60 or older and an accompanying spouse of any age at a suggested meal donation of $4 per person, Hardie said.

Pickup meal reservations can be made by calling 608-757-5474, and must be made no later than noon of the previous business day, she said.

Between 5 and 15 meals are being picked up daily for dine-in registered recipients. Before the dining center was closed, on average, Hardie said, between 12 and 25 people were arriving daily for the on-site meal.

Schroeder said the number of meals she delivers each day depends upon who signs up. On Monday, she said, there were three. The other days, there were two.

The county also offers a home delivery-based program, which is also facilitated through The Gathering Place, but differs from the congregate program now offering pickup options, Hardie said.

The recommended donation for that meal is also $4, she said, adding: “we don’t deny anyone food due to an inability to pay.”

To be eligible for this program, she said, one must be a Rock County resident, age 60 or older, or the spouse of someone age 60 or older, and be homebound, defined by Hardie as someone who is not able to leave home except to go to the doctor or attend church. Determinations are made on a case-by-case basis. There is an assessment process, she said.

“Right now, I’m getting slammed with calls,” she said, adding that she is exploring the possibility of adding another delivery route.

She has an immediate need for two volunteer drivers: one to deliver meals on Wednesdays in the Edgerton area, and another to deliver meals on a route that has yet to be established five days a week. The new route will likely include portions of rural Milton and Edgerton, she said.

Meals are designed by a registered dietician to meet proper nutritional needs and are prepared by Best Events Catering in Janesville. They are delivered in bulk to The Gathering Place where staff and volunteers plate and package the meals for home delivery.

The home delivery program provides daily between 30 and 40 meals.

That number is expected to increase, Hardie said.

Between 2019 and 2030, she said, populations of people ages 60 and over are expected to double as the Baby Boomers come of age. An increase in services for that age group was expected even before COVID-19 became a consideration. With COVID-19, she said, nobody knows what to anticipate.

Those interested in volunteering for either meals program — pickup or home-based delivery — or would like to register for meals, should contact Hardie: 608-757-5474.

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