By Elizabeth Rose
---- — MERRIMAC — The Housing Authority, in collaboration with the Council on Aging, is planning a pilot program to bring home-cooked meals to Merri Village residents during two weekends each month, alternating with weekend meals for residents at the Amesbury Housing Authority.
Bob Mazzone, director of the Merrimac Housing Authority, presented the bones of the new weekend meals program on Monday to selectmen. It has been in the works for a number of months and represents a coordinated effort between the Merrimac Housing Authority, the Amesbury Housing Authority and the Merrimac Council on Aging.
Laura Mailman, director of the Senior Center and a Merrimac selectwoman, said that it will be “a pilot program to get the kinks out, lasting from March until June.” It will offer home-cooked meals prepared by Council on Aging staff, brought to the site and served. Meals will be delivered to those unable to independently come to the community building. The meals will be available to residents and limited family and friends. No walk-ins will be allowed.
“The purpose of the program is to have more oversight over the food for the tenants. The food will be supervised by a nutritionist who understands the needs of this population,” Mazzone said.
The program will be self-sustaining and will cost the residents a fee. Signing up for meals in advance will be required and payment will be expected even if plans change, Mazzone said.
The community building kitchen will be updated according to ServSafe food-handling protocols imposed by federal standards. The kitchen renovation will include new cabinets, deeper sinks, a double oven stove, a convection oven and a hand-washing sink.
“My staff can bake in bulk and freeze meals like lasagna and shepherd’s pie. We want to have food on hand if there is a storm. This is what we are cooking up. It is a mini meals-on-wheels program,” Mailman said.
Using in-house staff and facilities makes the program unique.
“We are sharing scarce resources and making more of them by combining resources with the Amesbury Housing Authority. When you are a small service like we are, we have to come up with ideas that will push the envelope, think outside the box,” Mazzone said.
The latest Merrimac Housing Authority newsletter explains many of the program’s details, including the fact that there will be new locks on the refrigerators once the kitchen upgrade has finished.
Mazzone apologized in the newsletter for this change. Mailman explained that the locks would prevent “cross-contamination” of any of the meals by spills or accidents inadvertently done by residents. The Merrimac Housing Authority will be also working with the Board of Health to assure that all systems will meet the guidelines for safe preparation and distribution of food.
As with any special program, volunteers from the community will be vital to its success. Mazzone stressed that helpers in the dining area to serve meals, runners to bring food to shut-ins, as well as volunteers to clean and prep tables and utensils for serving will all be needed.