Hot Meals: City Workers Pivot to Help Feed the Community, Senior Citizens

Mike DiPietro usually oversees custodial work across all the City buildings, and George Lane typically builds out City construction projects, but the two of them found themselves driving into Boston on Monday to pick up nearly three tons of food from the Greater Boston Food Bank – all of it to be used to help nearly 500 families receive groceries at the new Connolly Center grab ‘n go.

ISD Director Jim Soper is known for reviewing plans, and Louis Steffieri typically makes food inspections, but both of them and the entire department has found themselves delivering about 400 hot meals every weekday to those in need prior to getting on with their normal work.

It’s all been a part of City departments and their workers transforming how they deliver City services during what has been an unprecedented pandemic and one that has created a huge need for food and groceries among older adults and families losing jobs and incomes.

“Honestly, I have no problem doing it at all,” said DiPietro. “We have to do what we have to do right now. We just pick up when the mayor calls us. I have no problem doing that. It’s helping so many people too. When you see all the people grateful for food and you’re helping to make that happen, it’s really worth it.”

Added Lane, “It’s definitely a bright spot in troubled times.”

DiPietro has made several trips into the Food Bank to take food deliveries, having to hand-load several tons of food even on his day off. After picking it up in the City’s truck, he returns to the Connolly Center where he also unloads it with the help of others. On Monday, they were bringing pasta, beans, pears, raisins, corn, beef, soups apples and other such goods.

Once at the Connolly Center, it goes into the hands of Dale Palma and his crew of volunteers.

Palma typically provides about 40 meals per day to the senior citizen community at the Center, as well as a vigorous programming and exercise regimen. Now, however, he has become an impromptu drive-thru grocery store for those in need, and has also coordinated the procurement and delivery of nearly 400 prepared hot meals every weekday.

“It’s eye opening to see the need and the City’s immediate response to the need,” he said. “As I talk to other Elder Services in other cities…Everett is by far ahead of the curve. Other cities have already shut down operations or have never started going.”

At the new grad n’ go, Palma’s crew of City workers, and volunteers from the Council on Aging take in the food delivered by DiPietro and others. With bags waiting, they organize the massive amounts of food into single servings and then have them ready at the curb once per week. Families and senior citizens – with no one turned away – drive up, get their grocery bag put in the car, and drive away so there is minimal contact exposure.

They have been serving several hundred households with the grab n’ go each week, he said, and it has been full on nearly every day.

“There are no off hours in this situation,” he said. “You’re on and you have to be. It’s a crisis. We had Easter Sunday off, but before that most of us had worked 15 days straight.”

Soper said he and three of his ISD inspectors, including Steffieri, report to Palma most every weekday. Working with several Everett caterers, Palma has ramped up the meals program from about 40 a day to 400 a day. Those meals are delivered and prepped at the Connolly Center.

Then Soper and his crew begin to distribute them to set addresses provided from calls to the 3-1-1 system.

“After Dale makes the food, we pick it up in our ISD vehicles,” he said. “We have three guys making deliveries five days a week. We’re delivering approximately 400 meals a day. That’s 2,000 meals a week. We’re not going one week on and one week off. It’s every weekday working our 35 hour shifts. We stay out of City Hall as much as possible. And we’re still taking enforcement calls and going out for those inspections in between deliveries.”

Most days, they pick up everything around 10:30 a.m. so they can have lunch on the table for residents by noon. They wear masks and gloves and deliver to many of the senior buildings, including 66 Main St. and Whitney-Lorenti House.

“What I know from the guys that are doing this is they are very happy to make people so happy,” he said. “They all enjoy doing it. Your heart gives a little bit during these times.”

Mayor Carlo DeMaria said he has really appreciated how all of the above have stepped up and gone beyond their typical jobs. He pointed out that each of those working to get food in the hands of residents every day are putting their health and safety in jeopardy to be able to help.

Added Jerry Navarro, director of Health and Human Services, “Everyone is just pitching in and doing their part to try to help everyone get through this pandemic safely. Obviously, the mayor asked us to do what we have to do to make sure people are fed and to get them food. Everyone has come together at a critical time.”

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