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December 15, 2020

Seasoned with love for senior living residents

Hospitality and Culinary Program alumnus Jesse Vega is now Food Services Director at Overland Park Place Senior Living. He is literally on the front lines of keeping one of our most vulnerable populations well fed and safe.

Treasured residents of a local senior living community can undeniably identify the most essential ingredient in Jesse Vega’s masterfully crafted meals — it’s love. Daily, he takes on meeting the dietary needs of each one. And during the coronavirus pandemic, every morning he rose to the challenges of lockdown and supply order changes. He dealt with a shortage of to-go boxes, and he couldn’t get yeast for over a month.  

“The biggest challenge I faced — especially in the beginning of the pandemic — was not knowing what the next day would bring. You have to rely on your training, common sense, work ethic and the infrastructure of the team you are responsible to lead,” Vega said.

As Food Services Director at Overland Park Place Senior Living, Vega credits not one but three JCCC programs in prepping him for his past and present roles. “My time in the Hospitality Management, Chef Apprenticeship and Dietary Manager programs has been invaluable to me throughout my career,” he said.

And as a recent graduate of the Dietary Manager program, Vega welcomed the rigors of focusing on health and nutrition for his clients, but he wasn’t counting on adding a pandemic to the mix.

Secret Sauce - Planning

Vega explained that in the face of adversity, he plays to his team members’ strengths.

Another secret to his success is planning. “Now more than ever, you must be a savvy buyer and have a back pocket filled with contingency plans,” he said. “The COVID-19 pandemic throws us curveballs every day, at a fast and furious pace. I find myself planning out farther each week because if a challenge presents itself, I’ll deal with it and get back on course immediately.”

Vega oversees all food purchasing and preparation and manages a staff tasked with keeping residents well fed, safe and satisfied. During “normal times” this is no small feat. When the pandemic became a reality, his team was faced with overcoming tougher obstacles.

He and his staff prepare meals to go for all 120 residents, three times a day, which are delivered to each room. He reminds his staff to think of everything residents might need to accompany their meal, so they don’t have to waste time and effort backtracking.

Feeding the Soul – Family and Friends

Vega says that despite the struggles, there have been positive moments to come from the pandemic. “I have seen smiles on the faces of a grandparent speaking to their grandchildren for the first time via modern technology. I have witnessed the joy a simple greeting card can bring to someone,” he said.

Vega shared that he and his son check on one another every week. “I think the pandemic has brought all of us closer together. Savor these tight-knit moments in a mental scrapbook for your heart,” he said.

He is hopeful for what lies ahead.

“Hope is being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel back to the day we can breathe fresh air and speak casually among close friends without having to use any precautions,” he said. “Every wave, every wink, every text message, every email, every phone call from my family, friends, colleagues and clients gives me hope!”

Vega is also grateful for his JCCC training that prepared him for the many responsibilities and challenges of his Food Services Director position. If you share his passion for hospitality, the culinary arts or health and nutrition, explore all of JCCC’s Hospitality and Culinary Arts programs. You, too, could discover an in-demand, satisfying career that makes a positive difference in the lives of others.