Valley Meals and More volunteer Alyce Perry delivers copies of The Sopris Sun along with individually-packaged meals. Photo by Jeanne Souldern.

As COVID-19 vaccinations ramp up throughout Colorado, Crystal Meadows Senior Housing manager Jerilyn Nieslanik is heeding doctors’ advice and will continue to follow Garfield County public health officials’ guidance.
All 79 residents received the second shot of the vaccine by the end of February. They continue to follow safety protocols by wearing facemasks on the property at all times. Common areas and laundry room facilities are limited to use by one person at a time.
Dr. Gary Knaus of Roaring Fork Family Practice worked with Garfield County Public Health to ensure residents received the vaccine. One afternoon, nurses came to administer shots to all residents, followed by another session for shot number two.
“It was one of the coolest days ever,” Nieslanik recalls. “It was so fun to see the happiness and relief on their faces.”
Nieslanik will continue to follow the direction provided by Knaus and public health officials. “We all have been safe, so I’m going to keep on listening to the health officials,” she said.
Efforts began in March 2020 to curb any potential spread of COVID. “We heard things coming in and of course then we just felt like any of the congregate living facilities, we really needed to be careful,” Knaus recalled. “We felt like if folks in these situations got sick, it would paralyze hospital systems. And of course, it is bad for old people who get COVID. We really wanted to be ahead of that game as best we could, and so we put in protocols and guidelines around visitation.”
One significant consequence for seniors, considered a high-risk population, was closing all senior congregate meal sites. Seniors, unable to gather in communal dining rooms, needed a quick solution.
Mary Kenyon, the founder of Valley Meals and More (VMM), came forward last year to address that need for Crystal Meadows residents. Kenyon and her volunteers continue to provide hot, individually-packaged, home-delivered meals free of charge. Fifty-three Crystal Meadows residents have opted-in to VVM meal-delivery. They can request one noontime meal-delivery for as many days as they want, Monday through Friday.
Meals are prepared by Honey Butter Diner, Peppino’s Pizza, Rivers Restaurant and Slow Groovin’ BBQ. Whole Foods also provides meals one day a week.
Volunteers wear facemasks and plastic gloves, and many residents enjoy greeting volunteers at the door, with all parties wearing a facemask.
As Kenyon emphasizes, “Our focus is not really about the meal; it’s about the connection to community, so we want to make sure that we see everybody each day.”
VMM’s meal-delivery program is unique in that they also deliver on holidays. Kenyon explains, “I always say, if the restaurant will prepare the food, we will deliver it.”
With the weather getting nicer, Kenyon sees residents taking their meals and joining a friend at a picnic table. She reiterates, “We don’t want to foster isolation. We want to make sure that they have a meal and then they can make the personal choice of whether or not to eat it with a friend.”
Crystal Meadows residents remain steadfast in adhering to safety protocols. As Kenyon says, “I think that’s a function of the mutual respect that they have for each other as neighbors and for keeping everyone safe.”
Nieslanik organized volunteers to help residents with grocery store runs and picking up prescriptions. However, not as much shopping is needed because the new City Market has online ordering and drive-up for groceries and drive-thru for prescription pickups.
For what has been a trying year for all, Nieslanik reflects, “I’m always so amazed and blessed at the community that we live in.”
Nieslanik says she will continue to adhere to health professionals’ advice before opening the complex to visitors.
Despite all Crystal Meadows residents completing their COVID vaccinations, Knaus said, “We’re still really cautious and trying to be careful, and I don’t think it’s quite time to call it over, for sure.”
Nieslanik looks forward to the day when we are on the other side of the pandemic. She laughs and says, “We’re gonna have a block party, and everybody’s gonna come out, and we’re gonna dance and eat and laugh and enjoy each other.” She adds, “But not until someone tells me it’s okay to do so.”
Note: Multiple attempts were made to speak with Heritage Park Care Center staff for their perspective to be included in this story. The Sopris Sun will continue its efforts to bring you their story soon.