As news of the COVID-19 pandemic broke, it drove fear, anxiety, and uncertainty to new levels throughout retirement communities across the nation. To provide normalcy and give residents something to look forward to amid the crisis, two senior living communities challenged the status quo and decided to elevate their already stellar culinary operations. The culinary teams at Brethren Village and Garden Spot Village were charged with creating excitement around "the love of food."

When Richard (Rick) Chambers met with his team at Brethren Village, his message was clear. In a nod to Winston Churchill, he informed the group that "to successfully adjust, we must turn this crisis into our finest hour." Under his leadership, the team pulled resources that were allocated to catering and other areas where volume had declined, and came up with ideas like buying local to support farmers or purchasing high-end meats at a low cost to create an unforgettable culinary experience. 

In addition, the chefs and cooks at Brethren Village were empowered to be creative--no idea was taken off the table for discussion. The result? Culinary staff hosted pop-up events to celebrate national food days, held a county fair to fill the void when the annual county fair was canceled, and created employee catering packets so employees could take a restaurant-style meal home to their families at the end of the day. These events, plus additional amenities such as options for curbside pick-up, carry-out, or delivery, gave residents new reasons to look forward to their meals and allowed them to feel safe at the same time.

According to John Snader, president and CEO  of Brethren Village, "I am confident that the strength of our food and dining program went a long way in alleviating some of the anxieties that surrounded the coronavirus pandemic." The power of people who care and their shared love of food has enhanced the quality of life for both residents and staff.

Over at Garden Spot Village, as reports explained why residents could eat only in their room, Christy Turner's first thought was "How do we get nearly 1,000 residents fed and fed safely?" So, she gathered her team and challenged them to "create a culinary experience that residents can enjoy while keeping everyone safe." As a result, messages were shared with residents, through Facebook and internal TV channels, to watch the livestreamed programs from home as the chefs prepared their favorite homemade foods so residents could see how their meal is made.

Turner's team, in concert with other departments throughout Garden Spot Village, also focused on offering safe, socially-distanced events to bring excitement back into residents' lives. One such event, a drive-in, involved delivering a charcuterie box to the guests in each vehicle--along with "bottle service" that allowed them to create their own fruit-infused sparkling water! To ensure safety, cars parked in alternating spaces. With a variety of innovative ideas from staff and the successful responses to these events, residents and staff alike were able to find enjoyment during challenging times and get through the first wave of the pandemic together. 

As the second wave hit near the holidays and another lockdown loomed ahead, the team at Garden Spot Village rallied to create Christmas bags for employees and surprise boxes for residents. Nearly 1,100 bags and boxes were distributed, bringing cheer to residents, families, and staff, and further solidifying the power of engagement at all levels throughout the community.

At both communities, Christy, Rick, and their culinary teams leveraged their relationships and partnerships with Sodexo to gain guidance and access resources for safely holding these special events and reopening their dining rooms. In addition, Sodexo was able to share lessons learned from its locations around the globe to help ensure that all residents and staff remained safe.