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CASA GRANDE — As the number of positive COVID-19 cases has waxed and waned, the number of local seniors seeking food assistance has grown.

Casa Grande City Manager Larry Rains said the city has noticed a slight increase of about 10 to 20 additional meals being prepared each day at the city’s Dorothy Powell Senior Center.

The center is part of a congregate and home-delivered meal network provided by the Pinal-Gila Council for Senior Citizens. The center typically serves lunch Monday through Friday to adults over age 50 at the center. In March, because of the statewide coronavirus shutdown, the city switched to providing to-go meals at the center for seniors and eventually expanded the number of days that it serves meals from five to seven.

“We have seen a spike in referrals for home-delivered and congregate meals,” said Ana Medina, the CEO of the Pinal-Gila Council for Senior Citizens. “We were bombarded with calls and continue to get calls.”

The council provides numerous services such as caregiver support, counseling support, aid for housing and home repairs, in-home care, legal assistance, transportation and meal services to seniors in Pinal and Gila counties. It also offers some services for the disabled who are under 60.

Medina said in the last four months, the council has served 30,800 congregate meals, an increase of 85% over the four months previous to the coronavirus shutdown in March. The council also served about 64,300 home-delivered meals in the last four months, an increase of about 76% from the number of meals delivered in the four months previous to March.

She attributed the increase in demand to local seniors self-isolating at home in order to reduce their risk of catching the COVID-19 virus.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that older adults, especially those over the age of 85, are at a greater risk for severe illness if they catch the COVID-19 virus.

A recent study by Feeding America found that in 2018, 5.3 million seniors, or about 7.3% of all seniors in the U.S., were food-insecure. The organization expects the COVID-19 pandemic to increase the number of seniors, adults under the age of 65 and children who experience hunger or food insecurity in 2020.

In response to the greater demand for meal services, the Pinal-Gila Council increased the number of both home-delivered and congregate meals it serves per week from five to seven to make sure seniors had something to eat over the weekends, Medina said.

The council received some funding from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act, cities such as Casa Grande, the state of Arizona and donations from local residents and businesses to help cover the cost of providing additional meals, she said. That fund should be able to carry the council’s meal services into the next year, but the council is keeping a close eye on the funds as the price of food fluctuates.

The council is still accepting referrals for all of its services, including its meal program, Medina said. Family members, friends and neighbors can even refer a senior they know to the program. The best way to refer a senior for services is to call the council directly at 520-836-2758.