Monday profile: Mary Kenyon started senior meal delivery just in time to assist during COVID-19 crisis

Mary Kenyon, founder of Valley Meals and More, carries meals out of the Eagle County Community Center in March during the public health lockdowns.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Even before the new coronavirus turned the world on its head, Mary Kenyon recognized a gap in eastern Garfield County’s senior services.

Meal delivery to seniors in need is not available to many of the people who live southeast of Glenwood Springs.

“There’s 3,500 residents over the age of 60 where home-delivered meals (through other area services) are not delivered to them,” said Kenyon, who lives at Ironbridge just outside Glenwood Springs.

As many as 1,200 seniors live in remote parts of the county, and those are the people that keep Kenyon up at night.

“That was the issue that was raised in my mind, and that’s what launched Valley Meals and More,” Kenyon said.

The meal delivery service got off the ground, but as more and more facilities shut down their group meals for seniors, it became more important for seniors self-isolating due to COVID-19.

“We started out (delivering to) eight, so 27 is quite the jump,” Kenyon said of her most recent number late last week.

Kenyon is no stranger to helping seniors in the Roaring Fork Valley, but 20 years ago her career was in marketing for Time Magazine and Newsweek based out of Chicago.

After a visit to Aspen working on a project with Newsweek, Challenge Aspen, the Wheeler Opera House, as well as Vince Gill and Amy Grant, she decided to make a move.

“While I was working on that project, I fell in love with the Roaring Fork Valley and just moved here — nine days before 9/11,” Kenyon said.

Kenyon went from being on an airplane four days out of the week, to living in “the Roaring Fork protective bubble” and never looked back.

Kenyon founded the firm Impact Marketing, and spent five years as the Pitkin County Aging Well Facilitator. The Northwest Council of Governments even named her “Friend of Seniors” in 2018.  

She also spent a lot of time volunteering and working with other senior-focused nonprofits.

“During that time, I became a senior. It’s almost like I’m working on programs that will support me in my future,” said Kenyon, now 62.

In the nick of time

Kenyon moved from Basalt to Ironbridge in 2018. Given her background in senior issues, she looked at services in the region.

“I moved into Garfield County and was looking at their home-delivered meal options for seniors, and there weren’t any on this side of the county,” Kenyon said.

County staff mapped out where all the registered voters older than 60 were, and found more than 3,500 residents who didn’t have the option for meal delivery.

There are many food charities serving Garfield County, but most senior meal delivery services are in the western part of the county.

Grand River Health delivers meals to Rifle and the surrounding areas through Meals on Wheels, which recently received an additional $40,000 in emergency funds to deal with a 30% increase in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kenyon approached nonprofit Senior Matters in Carbondale, and they quickly partnered with Valley Meals.

Kenyon wanted to avoid redundant charitable work, as there are plenty of good nonprofits in the region.

“It’s really important to us that we don’t duplicate any services; that we fill the gaps where there are needs,” Kenyon said.

Valley Meals started delivering several surplus meals from the Eagle County’s senior meal program. But once the senior center in Eagle County closed due to COVID-19, there were more seniors needing the meal delivery.

Kenyon adapted quickly, with some funds coming from Eagle County, and recently receiving emergency grants from Aspen Community Foundation and the Rocky Mountain Health Foundation to pay for expanded meals.

“We’ve kind of launched this in an emergency state. We’re trying to move with the ever-changing landscape of programs and opportunities for older adults,” Kenyon said.

Valley Meals is working with the Carbondale Emergency Task Force, which is coordinating relief activities for the community during the pandemic.

Kenyon has a dozen volunteers making deliveries and 15 more who have offered to volunteer. She is interested in receiving support from the Garfield County commissioners to make Valley Meals and More sustainable going forward. But, for now, the focus is on the emergency of the pandemic.

The long road ahead

It’s unclear when exactly the COVID-19 outbreak will subside, but it could be quite a while before the highest risk persons can safely resume activities.

“We don’t anticipate the congregate meals or the on-site meals to be open anytime before August,” Kenyon said.

In the meantime, she is advising vendors and meal distributors to find backup plans in case someone gets sick, or supply lines become tight.

“As everyone is saying, this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” Kenyon said. “Yesterday, we received some emergency funding just for the meals,”

Valley Meals also received emergency funding last week from the Aspen Community Foundation and the Rocky Mountain Health Foundation.

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