Not the most avid cook personally, current dietary director at Bethesda Home Kelli Willis admitted she was drawn to that initial position with the organization seven years ago because of the chance to interact and help the residents of the retirement center.
Willis is a people person and transitioning to the role of dietary manager (for three years) and director, as of last spring, has given her the opportunity to have even more interaction and a greater impact on the lives of the residents, as her new role has put her in charge of purchasing all the food for Bethesda Home, working on the menus on a weekly basis and even still helping out in the kitchen if needed — all while keeping the needs of the residents in mind.
"They rely on us to help them with the nutrition to get their wounds better and that's a large part of making that person heal because they need Vitamin C or they need more protein, those kinds of things," Willis said.
On top of those considerations, there are dietary restrictions and other issues that have to be kept in mind when serving the 55 residents and up to 25 staff members per day.
In an effort to prioritize the residents' preferences, Willis noted she has also recently started a menu planning committee with herself, a couple of staff members and a group of about eight residents that meet once a month to review the menus and get feedback — what items residents would like to see featured at meals and even leaving the final decisions up to them on certain special occasions (i.e. Father's Day).
"Food is just such an important part of people's lives and it's neat to see people smile when they get their favorite thing," Willis said. "If they ask for us to use the recipe and we use it, then it's awesome to see the excitement on their face."
Holding to a standard five-week menu rotation, Willis noted there is a lot of variety in the meals she normally plans, too, like offerings of vegetable lasagna or a chicken bacon ranch wrap. On top of the weekly meals, there are also special events like BBQ picnics or ice cream socials for which she also helps lining out the food offerings.
Mobile meals have also become a routine part of Willis' duties after Bethesda Home took over the Friendship Meal Program five years ago, following the shuttering of the local AGAPE Senior Center that previously provided that service. Planning five meals a week for the mobile service (and sending out menu previews each Friday) may make for more work, but it was a task Willis was happy to take on.
"Since I've been doing this role, I don't think I've every turned anybody down, because we try to help everybody out," Willis said. "When you see a need for something, you have to take it over no matter what. It's a very good thing, the home-delivered meals. It helps the community out and you know that they're getting food and nutrition and helping them."
Putting that positivity out into the community, Willis has seen it reciprocated back, too, as she noted both the elementary school garden and local gardeners donate food to Bethesda Home for meals when they can. In addition, she noted she has a wonderful staff to help provide for the residents and she and staff have helped spark an interest in younger community members through the junior volunteer program done in the summer.
All that assistance is crucial and a need for volunteers remains, particularly with the home-delivered meals as Willis noted it helps provide for community members who may be immobile, have disabilities or just can no longer cook for themselves — being a great source of nourishment for those individuals.
Menus may differ (with more options offered for meals served at Bethesda Home), but dietary needs are met both ways, whether Willis is working with an individual who is a vegetarian or one who needs their food pre-cut.
"We try to do our best to accommodate special needs and stuff like that," Willis said.
For more information on services offered by Bethesda Home, visit www.bethesdahome.org.