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Pomona Staff Prepare More Than 20,000 Meals for Local Homebound Seniors

Dining staff packing food

Even COVID-19 can’t overcome compassion. Furloughed Pomona College dining and catering staff have shown care amidst the pandemic by preparing meals for 180 homebound seniors in the local region who otherwise couldn’t leave home to purchase food. The ongoing program, which started in November, is a partnership between union UNITE HERE Local 11, the Hospitality Training Academy and Pomona College.

This has been a mutual provision: Senior citizens receive breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, and furloughed staff are able to work on a limited basis and be paid their regular wages.

Staff cook and package food and prepare the meals for delivery via taxi or drivers as arranged by the Hospitality Training Academy. Jose Martinez Jimenez, general manager of dining services, says a total of 22 staff members are working the county meal program, 16 dining staff and six dining managers.

Safety has been a paramount priority. 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 of facilities and campus services.

All of this effort has yielded much fruit. As of mid-January, more than 20,000 meals have been served. And these aren’t peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—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. 

Martinez, Robinson, Brenda Rushforth, assistant vice president of human resources and chief human resources officer, and Carol Saldivar, senior human resources business partner, made this partnership with the union and training academy possible.

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.”