There are a lot of great non-profits in the East Bay, over 300. Senior Support Program of the Tri-Valley (ssptv.org) serving seniors in Pleasanton, Livermore, Dublin is doing remarkable work. Their services are needed more than ever.Jeff Katz
The requirements of social distancing have upended the operations of nonprofits that serve some of the Tri-Valley’s most vulnerable residents.
Because seniors are more susceptible to complications from the new coronavirus, groups that provide in-person services for the elderly have rushed to adapt to a new way of providing help from a safe distance.
In order to allow more seniors to safely remain in their homes, area groups are pooling resources and coordinating to deliver groceries, toiletries and prepared meals to the homes of older residents.
“All our clients are receiving phone calls,” said Robert Taylor, executive director of the Pleasanton-based nonprofit group Senior Support Program of the Tri-Valley. “If we have a phone number, we’re calling.”
Taylor’s group operates a variety of free programs for seniors aimed at fostering independence, safety and well-being. Until public health officials last month ordered seniors to stay at home, he majority of those programs are delivered face-to-face.
Now, most of its work is done over the phone.
To protect its seniors and volunteers from the contagion, Senior Support has been forced to suspend its home visitation program and door-to-door medical appointment transportation service.
Employees working remotely from home are checking on seniors by phone, assessing their needs, and connecting with other nonprofits like Open Heart Kitchen, which makes prepared meals, and Spectrum Meals on Wheels, which delivers meals to homebound seniors.
Its two licensed therapists have been available for one-on-one counseling by phone and they are currently arranging to make video therapy sessions available as well.
While grocery stores are among the few places that remain open, people over 65 and those with underlying medical conditions have been told to avoid shopping at grocery stores if possible. Not everyone has the means or ability to order groceries online. For those without nearby family or friends with cars who can deliver groceries, the need to help suddenly homebound seniors is increasing.
Volunteer efforts, like COVID-19 Pleasanton Support Angels, and Tri-Valley Supports Seniors, have stepped up to help seniors with grocery and other essential deliveries. Long-standing nonprofits that serve homebound seniors like Meals on Wheels are also seeing an uptick.
Caryl Mahar, development director with Spectrum Meals on Wheels, said requests for home meal delivery in Livermore, Dublin, Pleasanton and Sunol are up by about 25% over the past week or so, and she expects increased interest to continue to grow in the coming weeks.
“We are still up and running and everyone who has requested a meal is receiving a meal,” she said.
Over the past three weeks, employees with Senior Support of the Tri-Valley began delivering groceries and toiletries directly to residents on its roster identified as being in the greatest need of help. Most are in their 80s and 90s.
Workers take precautions, like wearing gloves and face masks, and leave bags at recipients’ front doors.
Because the nonprofit’s funding is largely grant-based, it is unclear if the organization will be reimbursed for the deliveries. Even so, “it’s the right thing to do,” Taylor said.
Beyond serving the immediate needs of its clients, the group is also exploring additional ways to fulfill its broader mission to help improve the quality of life for area seniors in the weeks ahead.
The group is putting together a short video it hopes to air on public access television, providing tips for seniors on ways they can stay healthy and well during the outbreak. It also is laying the groundwork for video conferencing sessions for its seniors on topics such as proper nutrition, exercise, and medication management, he said.
The organization was established in 1981 with a Friendly Visitor volunteer program serving 35 seniors.
The visitor program still exists today and now serves more than 200 seniors, resulting in nearly 4,000 home visits in 2018, according to the group’s most recently available filings with the IRS.
“We had to stop all volunteer visiting, of course,” said Pam Silliman, who now coordinates the visitor program, which until recently paired community volunteers with seniors for socializing and home visits.
Many of the Tri-Valley residents served by Senior Support Program live alone, have no family members in the area and little in the way of a support network, Silliman noted.
For those who struggle with loneliness and social isolation, friendly visitors can help fill the gap and grow into meaningful friendships for both seniors and volunteers, Silliman said.
She described one volunteer, a man in his 50s, who was paired with a Pleasanton widower in his 80s. The volunteer started with short visits after work on Thursdays at the older man’s apartment in Pleasanton. One visit, the volunteer arrived to find a TV dinner ready for him. Their weekly visits grew to include dinner and watching reruns of the old western television series “Gunsmoke.”
Even after some seniors are no longer able to live on their own, Silliman said volunteers often stay in touch as the elders move to nursing facilities. “We’re trying to connect with them as much as possible.”
During the shutdown, Silliman said volunteer visitors have continued to stay in touch with their elder partners, making welfare calls a few times a week, and relaying to her any specific needs the organization can try to meet. “We’re trying to connect with them as much as possible, even though it can’t be face to face.”
By David Chircop | Apr 9, 2020