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Christina Atchison, head cook for Emporia Friendship Meals, wears a protective mask sewn by her mother.

Editor’s Note: COVID-19 has impacted every part of our lives since it first appeared in Kansas a little more than two weeks ago.

From local shops, restaurants and bars having to drastically alter the way they do business, to shutting down many forms of entertainment, the coronavirus’ reach has been tremendous.

In the coming days, The Emporia Gazette will be speaking with local business owners and area residents to see how the pandemic is affecting their lives.

Today, The Gazette speaks with Emporia Friendship Meals Program Head Cook Christina Atchison.

As head cook for the Emporia Friendship Meals program, Christina Atchison has spent the past 11 years providing hundreds of meals to the elderly within the community each week.

Friendship Meals is a Meals on Wheels service that operates out of the North Central Flint Hills Area Agency of Aging’s Friendship Center, 221 W. Logan Ave.

It’s a service that is just as important now, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reshape daily routines and lives throughout the world.

“We deliver meals to the Emporia Senior Center, which is now closed, so it was concerning trying to figure out how to feed those people who weren’t able to come into that center,” Atchison said. “We set up a table where they can come in and grab that meal and walk right out with it. That way they are not having to have a lot of contact with anybody.”

Not providing those meals was never an option, she said. Not when so many people rely on those meals for nutrition and comfort.

“We are just trying to make sure that we have the meals to provide for them,” Atchison said. “We had one lady call who was concerned about us being open because of the oxygen she’s on. She was concerned that if she had to go into a nursing home, she wouldn’t be able to afford it. This is allowing them to stay in their home and provide them with a nutritional meal that they can receive every day. They don’t have to worry about not having the food that they need to eat.”

Atchison credits her staff for stepping up to make sure the kitchen runs smoothly as safety protocols get more intensive. For those who have their meals delivered, extra safety precautions have also been put in place. Drivers are given gloves and make sure to disinfect after each delivery.

“They have all jumped right in and do what needs to be done,” she said. “We’re all taking extra precautions, over and over and over again, remembering to keep sanitizing. I have an excellent kitchen staff that has gone above and beyond.”

And one bright spot amid the fear has been how the community has come together to help the program. Atchison said the Friendship Center has received more offers for help and more volunteers over the last couple of weeks.

“Sometimes it is hard to find a volunteer, but I think with this scare it’s put things into perspective,” she said. “We have seen a lot of new faces and volunteers coming in, which is absolutely wonderful. I hope people continue to volunteer like that, because this is a needed program that provides for the elderly.”

Those interested in volunteering can call the Friendship Center at 340-8001 and ask for Vicky or Dana.

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