Colleen Connolly says it feels like she’s hopped in a time machine and traveled back 17 years.
She’s in the kitchen with just her husband Colin, preparing meals side by side the way they did when they opened Cookie’s Grill.
Back then, they were building up a business.
They’re in the kitchen for a different reason now. Their popular restaurant is closed and staff have been laid off because of the COVID-19 crisis, but there is important work to be done.
Colleen and Colin fill a vital role in the Meals on Wheels program run by Chilliwack Community Services.
It’s a noble calling at the best of times, and even more necessary now with vulnerable Chilliwackians isolated, and potentially unable to feed themselves.
“For this week alone, we’ve put out 228 frozen meals out,” Colleen says. “We can easily put out 40 to 50 hot meals in a day if it’s something the clients like, like chicken or turkey dinners.”
When the coronavirus crisis exploded, Meals on Wheels responded with a shift towards frozen meals, to make sure clients who couldn’t get to a store or couldn’t find food on empty shelves wouldn’t go hungry. But not everyone has easy access to a working oven or microwave either, so hot meal deliveries have been added back to the schedule, starting April 14 and continuing on April 16, 20, 21, 23, 27, 28 and 30.
Colleen says they provide a meal that includes a meat, starch and veggies and includes homemade soup and a dessert.
“We prepare home-cooked meals like roast beef, turkey, chicken pot pie,” Colleen says. “Just like your mom made.”
“We are very humble and honored that we can help the seniors or anyone who needs help. We are a very family-oriented business and we live in this community. Colin and I are always looking for things we can do for the community and this program is a small way we can help.”
It takes the pair about six-and-a-half hours to put things together for the week, only because they are practiced pros. Colleen talks about making four batches of soup and ‘cooking up some turkeys’ as though it’s a small thing.
For many of us, it would be an epic undertaking.
“When you’ve been doing it your whole life, it’s second nature,” she says with a laugh.
With an air of paranoia in the air about how the virus spreads, Colleen and Colin are making sure there is no doubt the food, hot or cold, is safely prepared and perfectly safe to eat.
“We’re very cautious about cleanliness and we’ve been doing a lot of these things long before this virus was here,” Colleen says. “We had checks that went above and beyond before any of this happened.”
After receiving orders from Chilliwack Community Services, Colleen and Colin get the food cooked, packed and ready for pickup.
Four volunteers arrive Monday mornings at 11 a.m.
“Each order is placed on a cart for them, and they show up with gloves and a mask and hand sanitizer supplied by the Meals on Wheels program,” Colleen explains.
Busy as she is some days, Colleen wishes she could prepare more meals for more people and she’d like more people to know the Meals on Wheels program exists.
“I’m overjoyed that we can do this for people,” she says. “When I first started this years ago, there weren’t a lot of customers, so the program has grown quite a bit. It’s a volunteer program where everyone’s doing it out of the kindness of their heart.
“I was raised to care about my community and that’s why I do this.”
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