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May 31, 2022

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Taking care of seniors, the community way

Shanghai has weaved a solid protection network for its elderly citizens, the most vulnerable group during the COVID-19 resurgence.

It was made possible thanks to the unwavering commitment and tireless efforts of a large number of people who came together to protect this special group.

Due to a lack of supplies during the lockdown, many people found it difficult to have a hot meal, especially the elderly who are unable to use smartphone apps to obtain fresh food or participate in community group-buying.

Meal delivery services at community-based canteens remained, and for many elderly residents in the city, they became a lifeline.

The journey of meal delivery began at 11am after two volunteers filled lunchboxes and carefully placed them into incubators in front of the Taopu Town community senior service center in Putuo District.

Yan Fengying, 84, a single resident of the Jinqi residential complex, received the lunch less than half an hour later. The three dishes were still hot when she opened the meal package.

“Cooking for an elderly person who lives alone is difficult, and the pandemic has made it worse,” Yan explained. “I am very moved that the delivery service was not interrupted.”

There are more than 300 people in Taopu Town aged from 60 to 90 who are in a similar situation to Yan, many of them struggling with physical difficulties or even poor income.

Their daily meals could not be arranged after the community-based elderly care service center suspended operations.

The town government came up with an alternative and started meal deliveries. They prepared a recipe that suited the elderly and served hot meals before 12pm.

Lifeline for seniors

“The pandemic is really a challenge for meal delivery services due to food and manpower shortages,” said Qian Hong, an employee with the Shanghai Yuanyuan Catering Management Co, which runs many community canteens that serve the city’s elderly.

Approximately 3,000 seniors are fed every day from the company’s five service stations.

“The meal delivery is a lifeline for them during the lockdown,” Qian added.

“Canteen workers began preparing lunch for the elderly as early as 4am or 5am. Some delivery workers slept in their trucks to avoid being quarantined.”

Meal prices, however, remained unchanged.

Every day, 398 food boxes are delivered to 38 residential communities and one senior home in Taopu Town.

“I get up at 3:30am and start working at 4am,” said Shi Xiuzhi, a chef at the Taopu canteen. “I spend half an hour having my own meal because I need to spare more time to cook dishes for the elderly.”

The number of meal orders doubled during the recent COVID-19 outbreak, according to Yang Yongrong, head of the canteen, but a lack of employees posed a hurdle.

He took on a variety of jobs during the lockdown, from sourcing ingredients and preparing meals, to driving and delivering packages.

“I was told by neighborhood committee officials that many senior citizens had nothing to eat since they were unable to buy fresh food via apps,” Yang added.

Elderly residents showed great gratitude for their services, but there were also some sad moments.

“I was saddened to learn that some of them had passed away during the lockdown, and we no longer had to deliver food for them,” Qian remarked. “Their names were crossed off our list.”

“Some people have been relying on our meals for a long time and have staggered to the door, waiting for the meals at a specific time. We persist despite all the difficulties because of them.”

Senior care homes in Shanghai have been under closed-loop management.

None of the 380 elderly residents of Shanghai Hongkou Silvercare Health & Rehabilitation Facility in Hongkou District were infected with COVID-19. The oldest among them is 103.

Nurses sleep at the center and work around the clock, with canteen workers and other staff, to protect the “old babies,” as they affectionately call them.

It is by no means an easy task.

Every day, they clean and sanitize hundreds of items, bend down multiple times to unload and move hundreds of kilograms of vegetables, and are always ready to deal with emergencies.

Auntie Zhao, who works as a nurse at the facility, hasn’t seen her daughter for almost two years. She spends all her time at work.

“The health and safety of our senior residents is the priority,” she said.

She looks after some elderly people who are bedridden.

“Some of them would talk when they arrived, but with age they now rarely speak,” Zhao said. “But, because we’ve been together for so long, I know what they need by simply looking at their eyes. When they smile, I know that my efforts have been worthwhile.”

The job requires a strong sense of responsibility, patience and a compassionate heart.

“Only when we receive negative nucleic acid test results for all our elderly residents every day do we breathe a sigh of relief,” Zhao remarked.

Tackling their food supply worries is far from enough. Staff members help elderly people use WeChat to talk to their families now that family visits have stopped.

A growing variety of events have been organized at the senior home to assist older individuals with cognitive problems in getting through this difficult time and alleviate their loneliness as a result of not being able to meet their family in person.


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