A new Meals on Wheels program, operating since November 2020 out of Pomona’s previously idle dining facilities, was designed with more needs than one in mind. In the midst of the pandemic, furloughed dining and catering staff prepare meals for 180 homebound seniors in the area. The result is mutually beneficial. Senior citizens receive breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, and furloughed staff are able to use their skills on a limited basis and be paid their regular wages.
The program is a partnership between Pomona College, the Hospitality Training Academy and UNITE HERE Local 11, a labor union that represents Pomona’s dining workers.
Staff members cook and package food and prepare the meals for delivery by the Hospitality Training Academy. Jose Martinez Jimenez, general manager of dining services, says a total of 22 furloughed staff members are working the county meal program—16 dining staff and six dining managers.
To ensure their safety during the pandemic, returning dining staff work in tightly controlled “bubbles” of two teams, are regularly tested for COVID-19 and follow strict health and safety guidelines and protocols, according to Robert Robinson, assistant vice president for facilities and campus services.
As of mid-January, more than 20,000 meals had been served. And we’re not talking about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches here. The cyclical menu includes plant-based meals such as mushroom ropa vieja, al pastor tofu with grilled pineapple, miso-glazed buckwheat soba noodles and other Sagehen favorites.
Catering chef Benigno Avina treasures this opportunity to use his talent, and he calls it one of his greatest experiences. “I’m so happy to be working in this program, helping people that really need help in these extraordinary times.”