MONTCLAIR, NJ - When news broke of the coronavirus spreading in New Jersey, staff at the Montclair Manor began living at the facility to ensure that the residents did not contract the virus from the workers. Now, more than a month later, the facility continues to have no cases of COVID-19, but they also have a new challenge, finding enough food and cleaning supplies.

The Montclair Manor, which is an assisted living facility located in Montclair, NJ, provides 24-hour care for individuals with dementia and Alzheimer's.

According to facility manager, Dorcas Palicas, they are an independently owned facility, which means that since they are not part of a healthcare network, they do not get food or cleaning supplies from corporate sources. Instead, staff at the facility generally shop for essentials for the residents.

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Now with COVID-19 forcing supermarkets to place limitations on how many meat items, paper products or cleaning supplies a customer can buy, there have been some challenges for the facility staff to obtain the amount of food needed to feed more than 40 people three healthy meals a day. The facility currently has 31 residents and 9 employees.

Palicas stated that another challenge is that they are concerned about contracting the virus when venturing out for food or other essential items. Therefore, only one person shops for them.

She has also made an arrangement with a local farmer, who now delivers food to the facility each week. She said that this often takes care of the fresh produce.

"We have some delivery, but we have to order more," she said. 

They also get occasional grocery deliveries, when slots or food are available. Even with these deliveries, there are limits on the amount of food that can be purchased at a time.

Prior to the lockdown orders due to COVID-19, staff at the facility used to go shopping for residents and buy in bulk. Now that there are limitations on the amount of meat, cleaning supplies and other essential items, the staff has had challenges in buying in bulk. In recent weeks, they have survived off of donations from local groups, from local suppliers offering to deliver food to the facility and from staff venturing out every few days.

Palicas said that there is always fear with venturing out because they don't want anyone to bring the virus back to the facility. 

"On March 13, we asked our live-outs to live there."

She said that only one person is allowed to leave the facility to buy groceries. When he returns, he must wipe down the groceries and change his shoes.

"Before they go in, we have to wipe and sanitize. They have spare shoes because they have to change their shoes," she added.

Another precaution the facility has taken, is not allowing workers, who have been outside of the facility, to return to work until the two-week incubation period concludes. Palicas and her staff have been cautious not to spread the virus to the residents to the point where one staffer was not permitted to return to work until her two-week incubation period had passed.

Palicas revealed that one of her staff members had gone to visit family out-of-state. When she inquired about returning during the lockdown, Palicas took precautions and asked her to wait for a few weeks to ensure that she was not infected. 

"We had a caregiver whose daughter and mother were living in Connecticut. It's almost two weeks since they have stayed out," she said. The caregiver is set to return this week.

Palicas also revealed that two weeks ago the Essex County Government had contacted them and ensured that they were equipped with medical masks and gloves. Prior to that, the facility had run low.

Longtime Montclair resident Denise Hamilton has a relative living at the facility and learned of the challenges that they were having with buying food. She initially started to help on her own and then decided to approach the Montclair senior citizen's group.

The 'Do Drop In' meetings take place in the Wally Choice Community Center and Hamilton knew that they would not resume for months until this pandemic is over. However, since they are no longer meeting, they decided to donate the bulk amounts of meat to the Montclair Manor. 

She said, "I asked them if they would mind donating the unused meat to the Montclair Manor, instead of having it go bad. I'm grateful that they decided to help. It was really nice of them."

Hamilton added, "I figured, at least, if they weren't going to use it, then we could give it to the Montclair Manor, who really needed it."  

She said that 'Do Drop In' organizers were more than happy to see the food be used by Montclair seniors.  

Nearly two weeks ago, Pastor Campbell Singleton and the Union Baptist Church leaders delivered meals to the healthcare workers at the Family of Caring facility, which is two blocks away. Less than a mile away, the Family of Caring long-term care facility was hit hard by the virus and have seen nearly a dozen positive cases and deaths in its residents and workers.

It was then that he learned of Montclair Manor.

"We wanted to do something to help," he said.

After hearing of the challenges faced by the facility and the donation by 'Do Drop In', Singleton and the Union Baptist Church members pooled together and bought bulk supplies for the facility. Initially, Singleton was going to give them gift cards, but he soon learned that money wasn't the problem, getting food in bulk was. Instead, he and his members went shopping at BJ's for them.

Singleton and several volunteers went shopping for the facility on Thursday and brought back nearly $450 of meat and groceries. Palicas expressed her gratitude to the Union Baptist Church for their generous donation.

"Thank God," she said. "I'm grateful. We're also grateful that we have kept the residents safe."

After spending the $450 on meat for the facility, Singleton learned that it may only last for two or three days, considering that the facility is feeding more than 40 people three meals per day.

Volunteers have also stepped in to place calls to local supermarkets to support the facility, to no avail. The supermarket staff is often overwhelmed and not able to authorize the facility to purchase food in bulk during this pandemic.

Just last week, officials came under fire after it was revealed that two out of three New Jersey veterans’ homes were experiencing an increasing number of infections and deaths from the coronavirus as COVID-19. The worst reported facility was located in Paramus, after 39 residents had died from COVID-19 as of Sunday afternoon, 110 confirmed positive, and 10 hospitalized out of the total population of 249, according to the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

As of Monday, there were 344 positive COVID-19 cases in Montclair and 44 deaths. 

Palicas said that she and her staff will continue to take the precautions they have taken in order to protect the residents of the Montclair Manor from COVID-19. Though they have gotten some support from a few good Samaritans, Palicas said that they could always use additional cleaning supplies and food or a bulk source.