London

London seniors building halts meals over COVID-19, saying they're 'for lifestyle only'

Dozens of seniors have been cut off from receiving meals paid for in their rent at an apartment residence for retirees in North London after a provincial order to shut down restaurants in a bid to halt the spread of COVID-19.

Residents told they must spring for meals themselves and the landlord will credit their rent

91-year-old Dr. Anne T. Marshall is a retired family physician. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Dozens of seniors have been cut off from receiving meals paid for through their rent at an apartment residence for retirees in North London over COVID-19 fears because the owner says the meals are "for lifestyle only."

The move follows a provincial order to limit social gatherings and shut down restaurants, with the exception of take out, in a last minute bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

The building owner, Sifton Properties, informed residents about the change on Tuesday, telling them in a letter that they would no longer be able to receive up to 20 meals a month included in their rent, which are eaten in the building's North Star restaurant. 

"We have made the difficult decision to close down our restaurant services to our tenants effective immediately, until further notice, as directed by the province," a letter from residence owner Sifton Properties said.  

As an alternative, the company suggests residents call local restaurants for take out, or have groceries delivered to their door, with seniors paying out of pocket until the expenses can be pro-rated against the following month's rent. 

Sifton said it would pay $156 for 10 meals, which works out to roughly $15 a meal. 

"The $15.00 you have referenced is per meal not per day and covers only the raw food costs exclusive of any labor [sic] costs associated with menu planning, food preparation or service," Sifton Properties Director of Retirement Living Sylvie Lucas wrote in an email to CBC News. 

"Our apartment tenants have full kitchens and the North Star Restaurant is a supplemental service for lifestyle only."

Companies getting breaks, while seniors have to pay 

Jane Jackson pinned up this sheet at the seniors' building next door to volunteer her services. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

While landlords and businesses are getting billion in breaks from governments and banks during the pandemic, seniors like 91-year-old Anne Marshall, who pays Sifton $2,800 a month at Richmond Woods, are left to pay out of pocket.

She said tried complaining, but it didn't get her anywhere. 

"When I called down they almost laughed me off the phone," the retired family doctor said. "We're supposed to be 'relatively independent,' that's what they tell us anytime we complain about anything."

Marshall's son Peter is in Ottawa. Her son Alan is stranded in Mexico.She also has mobility issues and can't stand on her own for more than a few minutes.

She said it's not possible to get groceries herself and cook in her own kitchen. 

"I've just given up my car, so I can't," she said. 

'They're not great meals' 

Jane Jackson with her dog Finnigan is looking to help seniors who have recently been cut off from their residence meal plan and may not have family in town. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

It means she'll have to order take out and, with a credit of only $15 a meal, having food delivered can be an expensive prospect. So Marshall has been making the most of what she has in her freezer and fridge. 

"What I had last night for my dinner was chili that [my son Alan] had made, so I just thawed that out," she said. 

With communal dining cancelled, her regular bridge game cancelled, her son Peter in Ottawa and her son Alan stranded in Mexico, Marshall still has her chin up. 

"I've dealt with the world for a long time," she said. "I try not to take myself too seriously." 

"They're not great meals. I mean they're okay," she said. "They're typical institutional meals." 

While the food isn't great, the company is and Marshall said many of her fellow residents are too afraid to leave their apartments for fear of catching a virus that can be deadly for older people. 

They've all been hunkered down in their homes, trying to wait out a pandemic that, so far, seems to have no end in sight. 

It's why neighbours like Jane Jackson are looking to help anyone they can.

"I want to lend a hand to my neighbours," she said. "I'm concerned about them because I know there would be some people who wouldn't have family and need things." 

"I put a note up with our phone numbers if anyone needs help because we're so close. I'm really not worried about the money," she said.

"If anyone's in need, we can help. We're a phone call away." 

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca

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