This long-lasting pandemic affects not only people’s bodies but the institutions that people depend upon. Governor Ned Lamont’s COVID-19 Safety Restrictions with regard to Senior Centers are difficult to implement. The result is that the Suffield Senior Center is not open to the public, yet it still provides services to seniors.
Monday through Friday, the Center provides Grab & Go Meals. Pre-COVID-19, meals were served on Wednesdays and Thursdays, with soup and crackers or a sandwich offered on Fridays. The addition of more meals occurred in mid-March when the Board of Selectmen, responding to the needs of the community, approved an extra amount of money for the Senior Center. This allowed Paula Pascoe, the Director of the Senior Center, to hire a kitchen assistant.
The following statistics as of November 13, provide a testament to the demand for this service during the pandemic which, at this date, constituted 168 days and 35 weeks:
11,225 Grab & Go Meals provided
135 seniors have requested the meals
58 seniors order the meals every day
50 households get the meal delivered by the Senior Center mini-vans (other seniors come to the Center to pick up the meals)
102 meals were made on October 23 (the highest single day)
456 meals were made October 19-23 (the highest week)
12,000 is an estimation of the number of meals which the Senior Center will provide by the end of November
For those who can pick up the meals, the Center provides a curbside pick-up at staggered times to comply with safety requirements. The rest of the meals are delivered starting at 12:30 p.m. Each meal is tagged with the recipient’s name and to lighten moods, a motivational quote is also attached. Each meal costs $3, but because of an expected 75 percent reimbursement from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), recipients are only billed the remaining 25 percent.
For the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, the Center will provide an 8×8-inch pan filled with special holiday foods, good for two-three meals.
Additionally, in coordination with Suffield Community Aid and other volunteer groups, the Center will provide a bag of non-perishable foods to each Grab & Go recipient to tide them over in case the Center is closed during inclement weather.
The Suffield Senior Center continues to provide transportation to doctor appointments and CVS. Adhering to CDC protocols, each van has been retrofitted with passenger barriers and hand sanitizer. Temperatures are taken before a passenger can board the van and masks are required. A new, somewhat larger mini-van, soon to be available, will have a HEPA filtering system. After each trip, the vans are sanitized.
Seniors can still play bingo, exercise and attend an AARP Driver Refresher Course, although remotely. If seniors are shopping for Medicare benefits before Open Enrollment ends on December 7, the Senior Center will make referrals to a Choices coordinator.
Fortunately, Paula did not have to lay off her staff, although the mini-van drivers’ hours were temporarily reduced in March through June. MaryLou, Marzena, Cindy, Vic, Gwen, Janet, Duncan, Cathy, Tracy and Susan make up Paula’s amazing team. They are committed to providing an extraordinary service for the community in difficult and normal times. Paula concedes that it’s been a little scary and feels like the Center is ten steps behind what it was before the pandemic. She mourns the loss of the large array of programs and services that were offered before. Looking to the future, Paula will not be able to sustain the extra meals once life gets back to normal. She only hopes to continue services the way she and her team did before.