A Day In The Life of Serving During a Pandemic


Caption:  Alyssa Dzurkovich, Student Dining Worker at Phoebe Berks

Senior living residents are living a new life since the pandemic.  Learn more from Cura culinary team members at Phoebe Berks, a senior living continuing care retirement community in Wernersville, PA, where Cura’s team prepares and delivers more than just meals…

Cura’s team includes 19 high school student servers from Conrad Weiser High School and Wilson High School who help to assemble 1,000 meals that are prepared fresh and delivered to resident door steps daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  According to Mark Olszewski, Cura General Manager of Dining at Phoebe Berks, we employ these dedicated student workers, who are managed by Lauren Brubaker and Tanya Cone, Dining Services Managers.  “These ladies are a very important part of our team – they manage the system.  They organize the delivery for the students and ensure the process runs smoothly.”

Alyssa Dzurkovich, 18, who lives in Wernersville, is one of the student workers.  She has been a member of the Phoebe dining team for two and a half years.  A server and dietary aide, Alyssa is also a senior at Wilson High School in West Lawn, PA.  Senior year is an important time – prom, graduation and just spending time with your friends.  There are 12 seniors, including Alyssa, who won’t be able to experience these special milestones. “It’s hard, but we’re trying to keep our senior class members positive,” she says.

Alyssa now has another role.  She and other student dining workers are also making a difference in the lives of the residents, helping them to remain positive and giving them cheer during this challenging time. They are drawing pictures on take-out containers and sending messages of love and “miss you” to the residents.   “The residents are very sweet people.  They thank us by writing us notes or messaging back,” says Alyssa.

 The day begins at 6 a.m. for the dining staff of 75.    As the team gets ready to take 225 “phone-in” meal orders from the residents as early as 7 a.m., Executive Chef Eric Shocket and Nate Phillips, Sous Chef, are very busy managing our back-of-the-house kitchen operations.  Together, all day, they prep, dice, sauté, grill, cook and bake.  They ensure our residents can select from several made-to-order options for breakfast and lunch including a variety of deli sandwiches and homemade chili!   Home cooked dinners always feature two specials that changes daily.  A sample dinner menu is minestrone soup, smoked sausage, baked lemon pepper catfish fillet, mashed potatoes, sauerkraut and spring vegetables.

Who can pass up desserts like cookies and pies baked fresh onsite like coconut custard and pecan!  In addition to a traditional Easter dinner, the dining team will prepare themed dinners including a recent St. Louis Barbecue themed dinner featuring ribs, big butter beans and cornbread!     “This is a special team.  We have adult team members who work 12 to 13-hour days to make sure our residents are fed and well cared for,” says Mark.

When asked if it was a difficult transition to go from traditional sit-down meals to all to-go orders, Mark and his team never missed a beat as this was not the first, but the third dining transition this year.  Just prior to the pandemic, over 130 independent residents were served their meals in the community’s auditorium due to an extensive front-of-the house renovation of their community dining rooms.  The dining team currently was using the auditorium to assemble meals, but now has moved to the newly renovated dining areas for assembly. “We just go with the changes and make sure that the residents never think that their dining experience is compromised.   We continue to prepare and serve a full menu, and will try to accommodate anything they desire,” says Mark.

Staples and other grocery items are also available for purchase through dining including milk, orange juice, iced tea, eggs, deli meat and salads by the pound, frozen Stauffer’s meals, breads sold by the loaf, freshly baked cookies, condiments and Turkey Hill ice cream…of course!  Our caring, young and responsible student workers will also grocery shop for other items.   Alyssa is part of the group of seven students who take the grocery lists of 90 residents and grocery shop for them at the local Redner’s.  “The residents are so thankful.  I really like them and my job at Phoebe,” says Alyssa.

Although Alyssa’s senior year will not be what she had hoped for, she and the group of student workers will always be remembered for the sacrifices they made — providing a special gift of compassion to our seniors!  Read more here in the Reading Eagle News.