LONDON BRITAIN — Senior citizens are the most vulnerable people in the community facing the surge of the Corona pandemic presently sweeping the commonwealth.
Although spring officially arrives Thursday, many seniors are at home alone in self-isolation to avoid interaction with others.
East Bradford resident Mary Sue Boyle is concerned. She said she is worried for senior citizens in Chester County in self-isolation and the depression that can arise from that.
Boyle sits on the Advisory Council to the Department of Aging, composed of independent Chester County citizens who run senior centers and advocates of the senior citizen community and church congregation members.
“We want people to not feel afraid to reach out and ask for help,” Boyle said of the senior citizen community. Like many on the council, Boyle is an independent voice working as a volunteer trying to assist those in need to ensure the quality of life for seniors.
“Many are in self-isolation,” Boyle said of senior citizens in Chester County. “Many are alone. Many are not being tended to by their families. They watch the news and they see empty shelves. Their fear is they may go without food. They may become depressed by the news, trying to stay healthy, trying to stay self-isolated.”
There are no grocery stores delivering food, materials and prescriptions to senior citizens for fee or without fees. For many living on social security checks alone, that equates to a hardship.
Yet there is hope.
Resources for seniors
While there is no hotline dedicated to senior citizens on the coronavirus crisis, there are many existing phone numbers they can call for help.
Senior citizens can call the government of Chester County to ask questions on the Corona crisis and a request for food, supplies and prescriptions.
The number is 610-344-6350. The county’s Information Referral Staff runs the line.
“We’re working with the Chester County food banks and food pantries to arrange meals,” said Sandra Murphy, director of Aging Services for Chester County.
For those in dire need, by calling the county number, “They can go on the radar.”
Another resource is United Way’s 211 phone number, which services the greater Philadelphia region.
“Each senior center is different, and each community is responding differently,” said Christopher Saello, president and CEO of the United Way of Chester County based in the Exon region. He said the United Way does not fund individuals but funds programs. “We fund senior centers who provide meals to seniors.”
Saello said some senior centers are closed completely while others, like the Coatesville Area Senior Center, are closed but still provide take home lunches and even do some limited delivery.
“Food security is an emerging issue right now as people are pressing the food pantries with schools and many senior centers being closed. People can always call 211 to connect with services,” he said.
And while senior centers in Chester County have closed their doors after the governor’s order last week, some senior centers are continuing to provide food by offering boxed lunches and bagged breakfasts to go.
Murphy said the Coatesville Area Senior Center and Phoenixville Area Senior Center have set up drive up and curbside services for registered participants. It is important to register in advance so the organizations know how many meals to prepare.
On Friday, ahead of closing down to the public, the West Chester Senior Center, loaded people with as much food as possible.
Murphy said many other senior centers handed out as much food as they had available on Friday prior to shutting down.
There are seven senior centers in Chester County based on the Pennsylvania Department of Aging’s criteria.
Murphy said Surrey Senior Services in Devon has launched a changed meal program in which people can drive up to the door to pick up food.
All Chester County senior centers are making well-check calls to registered members, Murphy said.
Pets source of companionship
“Seniors love their pets,” Boyle said. “Pets are very good companions.”
Some seniors may run out of pet food. She encourages neighbors to ask about that too when checking in on senior citizens living alone self-isolation.
On Friday, the West Chester Senior Center handed out supplies for dogs and cats. The county director of Aging Services credited state Sen. Andrew Dinnaman’s Pet Food program that ensured the shelves were fully stocked with dog and cat supplies prior to the crisis impacting Pennsylvania last week.
Many seniors who live alone have dogs as companions from kittens to puppies and from cats to dogs.
“Pets are therapeutic and that’s been proven through studies,” Murphy said. “The majority of our seniors do have pets.”
If a senior is running out of pet food, Murphy said there is help available.
“They can call us,” Murphy said. When a senior calls requesting help to ensure their animals have enough food during this crisis, the county can put them in touch with Sen. Dinnaman’s Pet Food program.
“We’ve seen through trying times before, like Superstorm Sandy, H1N1, and fires — pets come first. Seniors refuse to move unless their pets are taken care of and we support that,” Murphy said.
She added that Dinnaman has been a huge supporter of seniors with pets.
The senator’s pet food program is called Henry's Helping Paws and provides food to the pets of senior citizens. It was launched in March 2016. Meals on Wheels in Chester County is a partner organization.
The program delivers pet food directly to senior centers so that they can keep on caring for their pets, and was named after Dinniman's late poodle, Henry, who passed away in 2014.
"I am grateful that Henry's Helping Paws can continue to provide assistance to our senior citizens' pets in this trying and difficult time,” Dinniman, D-19th, of West Whiteland, told the Daily Local News on Wednesday. “While we fight through this unprecedented period, we are working on providing innovative, safe, and beneficial solutions to continue providing food for the pets of Chester County."
Grocery stores, food deliveries
Folks can order food from Acme and Giant but there is a purchasing requirement and service fees associated with these paid services.
“I have not heard of any grocery store waving their fee,” Murphy said on Tuesday. “The minute we do we’ll begin to push that information out.”
On Wednesday, ACME announced special store hours for senior citizens from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. beginning Thursday, March 19.
“At ACME we know that some of our most vulnerable neighbors are senior citizens and other at-risk populations, such as pregnant women or those with compromised immune systems, who have been advised to avoid leaving home as much as possible,” said Dana Ward, communications and public affairs manager of ACME. “We are sensitive to the fact that everyone is anxious to make sure they have the items they need, and we also know that everyone wants their neighbors to stay safe and healthy too.
There are more resources for seniors who need to shop thanks to the government of Chester County. Rover Community Transportation is still providing rides to grocery stores and pharmacies if seniors can do their own shopping. The cost is $1 each way, according to Murphy of the county’s Aging Services.
The phone number for Rover is 484-696-3854.
“If there is a senior who is afraid to go to the grocery store, call us,” she said.
The director of Aging Services for Chester County said the department has 47 people on staff and 33 are care managers. These individuals can shop for others and all have undergone extensive background checks.
“We have significant staff and they are used to grocery shopping,” she said, adding this is a “need not want situation.”
Care managers also ask about allergies. Care managers can deliver medicine to senior citizens from pharmacies, as long as the drugs are unregulated by the federal government as controlled substances.
Murphy also warned for everyone to be vigilant regarding who is offering to help them during this crisis.
“This is a perfect time for scammers,” Murphy warned.
On Tuesday evening, GIANT announced special store hours for senior citizens each day from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m.
“We are grateful for our team members who are working tirelessly around the clock to restock our store shelves and online fulfillment centers and continuing to serve our customers and communities during this unprecedented time,” said Nicholas Bertram, president of GIANT Company.
Beginning March 19, all GIANT stores will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. daily to service customers 60 and older.
“This will allow customers in this age category to shop in a less crowded environment, which enables social distancing,” said Ashley Flower, manager of external communications and community relations for GIANT. “They’ll also be shopping prior to any other customers entering. Although team members will not request ID for entry, the company asks its customers to please respect the purpose of the early opening — and do the right thing for your neighbors.”
Many senior citizens in Chester County are veterans.
Murphy said that the county’s office of Veterans’ Affairs remains fully staffed with everyone working remotely. The office continues to arrange benefits, and staff members are conducting consolations over the phone.
The phone number for Chester County Veterans Affairs is 610-344-6375.
Chester County Senior Games
Because of the Corona crisis, the Chester County Senior Games shall no longer take place this spring.
“It has been postponed unfortunately,” Murphy said. The county’s office of Aging Services runs the annual event which saw 210 people attend the community celebratory picnic last year. Murphy said she hopes to hold the Chester County Senior Games in early September.
Cash and food donations can make a difference.
“Donations are always good,” Murphy said. She encouraged folks to make food donations to senior centers but emphasizes the importance of calling in advance.
She said donating pet food and kitty litter is a plus.
“Absolutely it's need,” she said regarding seniors.
Murphy said people can also support Chester County senior centers with cash donations. She added their websites contain lists of supply items that are needed.
Recently, the United Way of Chester County launched an emergency fund to help. It is called the Chester County COVID-19 Response Fund.
“Everybody is looking out for each other,” Saello said, adding despite the crisis people are still looking to help others. “I’ve lived and worked my whole life in Chester County. I’ve always known there are a lot of amazing people here. But it’s times like this that it is really amplified — the generous spirit of people and the pride of people that live in the county.”
Communication is key
Boyle recommends that people call their neighbors who are senior citizens and also talk to them through windows. “Just to say, ‘Hey, how are you doing? Do you need anything?”
Boyle said she hopes this can bring the community together in a positive spirit to help one another.
“You can reach out to a senior,” Murphy said. “Stand six feet a part. Find out their phone number is and then schedule a time to reach out to them, just to check on them. And provide your phone number as well, in case they’re feeling a little bit anxious, they can reach out on you.”
Murphy encouraged family members in Chester County to check in on their loved ones. And, if possible, go get them to weather out this storm together.
“Bring them back to your house so they can shelter with you especially in the event this gets worse and the world comes to a complete and total stop,” Murphy said. “If you can go get them, pick them up and bring them into your home.”
If loved ones who are senior citizens live across the county, Murphy said family members should call them several times during the day to say, “I’m thinking about you, I care about you, I love you.”
Key numbers for senior citizens
For help with food and supplies, and information on the crisis, call Chester County Aging Services at 610-344-6350.
To reach a person who can help direct the call to the right resource, call the United Way’s Philadelphia hotline by dialing 211.
For retired members of the U.S. military, call Chester County Veterans’ Affairs at 610-344-6375.
Ways to offer support
If interested in volunteering to help senior citizens during this crisis, visit www.chesco.org/aging. Seniors can also visit this website for key updates on the Corona crisis plus gain information on additional services and resources available.
To donate to the United Way of Chester County to support area food banks for senior citizens, visit www.chestercountycovid19responsefund.org.