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Menno-Place-serving carts.jpg Photos: Menno Place
SuzyQ hot food carts on their way to serve a meal to seniors sheltering in their residences in Menno Place.

Menno Place senior facility in Canada to start social-distanced communal meals

Menno Place will start bringing small groups of seniors to its dining rooms to share a meal once a week while sitting at separate tables.

Like senior living facilities across both the United States and Canada, Menno Place in British Columbia has had to take drastic steps to keep its population of some 700 elderly residents safe from the coronavirus for the past five months. The facility’s success in this can be measured by the fact that it has not seen any infections to date.

The changes forced by coronavirus at Menno Place certainly have impacted the meal service, which used to provide a communal main meal in the middle of the day to its 250 independent living residents and two such meals to its 100 assisted living residents. These would take place in dining rooms where the residents could socialize over their food.

Since the coronavirus-imposed lockdown, all meals have been delivered to residents in their rooms. This has, of course, imposed a hardship on residents, who are mostly isolated in their residences, but some relief is coming.


The menu has not had to be adjusted at Menno Place as the SuzyQ carts are able to handle the meals that have traditionally been served in the congregate dining areas.

On July 6, Menno Place intends to start bringing residents to dining rooms once a week so they could have a meal where they sit communally, though that still means one person per table. That’s preferred to plexiglass dividers, which could hamper communicating for seniors who may have hearing issues, says Angela Ross-Fehr, director of dining experience.

“We have five floors, so doing one floor a day Monday through Friday will allow each floor—about 20 persons—to come down to the dining room and we’ll have a regular foodservice for them,” she explains. “Then, after they’ve eaten, we plan to have them stay and we’ll have some recreational activities.”

While one floor gets the communal meal experience, the others will get their usual meals delivered to their residences. That will require the dining staff to do double duty—including monitors to regulate traffic in the elevators (one person at a time only, at least for a start) and wipe down the buttons after each trip—but Ross-Fehr has allocated adequate labor and sees it as more than worth the extra effort.

“The value of this is in getting them out of their rooms at least once a week,” she declares. “I am very excited about it.”

Otherwise, for meal service, the delivered breakfast is more of a snack, usually with a baked good like a muffin and fruit, Ross-Fehr says. “At lunch we come by with our hot food cart and stop at each door. We partner with healthcare aides who move one door ahead of the cart and knock on doors to let them know we’re coming. They also ask the ‘COVID questions’ to make sure they are alright and bring the meal in if the resident can’t. My staff don’t go in the rooms.”

Menno-Place-meal-delivery-service.pngDelivered meals replaced communal meal service when the coronavirus forced restrictions on congregating in dining rooms.

The meals are all in disposable servingware, so there is nothing to retrieve afterwards.

“Early on, we tried just splitting up the residents with half coming at one time to the dining room and the other half at another time, but that had just too many people in elevators, and we weren’t able to keep the social distancing,” Ross-Fehr explains, “so we quickly moved from that to serving meals in their rooms.”

Meal service for continuous care residents is a little more difficult, she adds, because of issues such as dementia that can make patients unaware of the COVID situation and its restrictions, so patients will go to the dining room at mealtimes and expect a meal. The staff has adjusted to this by spacing out the tables there and serving whoever comes. Those who stay in their rooms get their meals there.

“We have not had to change our menus at all because the hot food carts are our normal way of serving,” Ross-Fehr notes. “We can still provide beverage, dessert and salad carts and two [entrée] choices for every meal and that’s beautiful because we have a great menu,” though the facility did have to purchase two extra carts to handle the extra room delivery requirements. The kitchen recently shifted to its summer menu that takes advantage of the fresh locally grown produce, and it puts on special event meals such as barbecues.

While residents can’t attend these in person, “the smells drift up so whole campus knows its barbecue day!” Ross-Fehr says. “Then we just put the food in a hot food cart with prebagged condiments and toppings and take it to their rooms.”

Menno Place sprawls over 11 acres in Abbotsford, located near the U.S. border with Washington state. Independent and assisted living residents live in three multilevel complexes, two with their own kitchens so that meal delivery is accomplished by taking heated food carts up elevators while the third facility does require a short outdoor trip. Menno Place has about 250 independent living, 100 assisted living and 350 continuous care residents.

TAGS: Coronavirus
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