Uncovering critical needs in one South Carolina community

Increased meal assistance for seniors during the coronavirus has helped create a roadmap for solving longer-term challenges

It was early spring 2020 when Senior Resources of Columbia, S.C., got a desperate phone call from California. The caller was concerned about an elderly family member in the area who had been stuck at home for weeks, with no one checking in. The senior was so isolated that she had begun eating her pet’s food.

Senior Resources, a nonprofit dedicated to helping seniors stay healthy and independent, sprang into action. Within 24 hours, it had stocked the individual’s pantry and gotten her started on a meal delivery program. “We needed to respond not just with tangible things,” recalls executive director Andrew Boozer, “But also with the reminder that somebody cared for her.”

Senior Resources has been caring for seniors in Columbia and surrounding Richland County for well over 50 years, providing nutritious meals and programs to help them age in place and in comfort. The agency administers the senior food delivery program Meals on Wheels in the region, plus offers food co-ops, transportation services and wellness centers, along with regular in-person check-ins.

Senior lady

As a result of the coronavirus, the need for its services skyrocketed. “Phone calls for our senior nutrition programs increased 600% overnight,” says Boozer. With the help of a $65,000 grant from Bank of America, Senior Resources was quickly able to implement an emergency senior nutrition program. The organization set up 12 drive-through food distribution centers around Richland County, a diverse region that encompasses rural, suburban and urban areas. While Senior Resources regularly provided meals to some 500 seniors a week previously, at its peak last spring, the number rose to more than 2,500.

But what started out as a temporary solution to critical needs helped Senior Resources identify longer-term challenges. “This situation has opened our eyes to the fact that senior nutrition and well-being is much more of a crisis than we were previously aware,” says Boozer. “We now have data points on which zip codes need our services the most, and those zip codes really overlay with the economic and racial divide that exists in our city.”

After making inroads during the coronavirus, Senior Resources is now working with local leaders to help alleviate hunger in previously neglected areas. Private sector support has helped the group move quickly and build something critical for success in these neighborhoods: trust. As Boozer puts it: “The contributions from Bank of America and others have helped validate what we do in our communities.”

As nonprofits adjust to addressing increased needs in their local communities, Bank of America is committed to supporting them. Learn more about the bank’s $100 million philanthropic commitment to more than 1,300 nonprofits addressing needs brought on by the coronavirus, which is in addition to our $250 million in annual philanthropic giving.

Originally published 09/09/2020