What’s for lunch on Thursday? Could be taco salad or a BLT. Could be turkey and mashed potatoes with stuffing on the side. Could be empanadillas and refried beans. And you can count on a sweet treat for dessert. Drink (iced tea, punch, maybe lemonade) optional.
Before the onset of the Spring 2020 coronavirus outbreak, each week the “Bell Diner” group developed a menu, hung signs in the main Bell office and sent an email to all Bell employees letting them know what the meal would be that Thursday.
This weekly Bell tradition started more than 20 years ago, when the vocational rehabilitation program provided an opportunity for mental health service users to learn skills pertaining to work and responsibility in the food industry. Staff were trained and shared the rules for safe food handling, making sure they meet all the requirements for proper preparation and service. The meals were then marketed and sold to Bell employees.
At the beginning, the price of a meal was one dollar, which started many years of the popular “Dollar Diner.”
As people move in and out of programs, the number of people involved in the group ebbs and flows. Staff, too, come and go. With the cost of groceries increasing over the years, the price of a meal is now $4, and the effort continues under the name Bell Diner.
Well, it did. Until COVID-19 struck.
Change comes again
Now, there are less than five employees on each of the five floors of the main office building at any given time. Most of the 60+ who worked in the building are working remotely or staggering shifts.
The mental health and intellectual disability day programming that typically filled the facility with activity Monday through Friday has been suspended. No more Sendero craft days. No more Soc Rec trips to Market. No Bell Recovery Action Team bake sales. No cooking group…or is there?
Since isolation can be challenging, especially for some people who rely on opportunities for socialization to maintain their mental health, Bell MH staff decided that food would be – as it often is – a great connector. Wearing their masks and maintaining a healthy distance from one another, employees from the MH Social Rehab, New Beginnings, Vocational Rehab, Sendero, and Supported Housing programs are using one of the kitchens in the building to prepare weekly meals for service users of these programs.
The meals are packed up in containers, a happy greeting written on the lid, and then are delivered to service users (who are notified in advance of the drop off). From a distance, staff can check in with people, offering not only the meal but also support and encouragement. To make sure they’re doing okay and working with them to get any additional resources they may require.
This food outreach effort serves 70 people each week. It is costing the programs about $100 each week and unfortunately, we’re running out of funds to sustain it. The community is invited to help by making a donation – online or writing a check – designated to the MH Social Rehabilitation program.
Hopefully, we’ll be back at work again before too long, and we look forward to the day when programs will resume fully again. For sure, that first Bell Diner meal will be a real treat, for those preparing it and those purchasing it.
In fact, let’s just say: it will be priceless.
Checks, made payable to Bell Socialization Services, may be mailed to the administrative office at 160 S. George Street, York PA 17401. Please make a note in the memo line that your gift supports MH Soc Rehab/Bell Diner.