The activity rooms at Senior Action’s eight Upstate locations — once filled with friends meeting for classes, clubs and meals — are quiet, but the dedicated staff who coordinated those lively events are busier than ever, still carrying out their mission to keep senior adults healthy and engaged.
In March, recognizing that the population they serve is at the highest risk for serious illness from the novel coronavirus, Senior Action worked with partner Meals on Wheels to package meals for members who normally enjoyed lunch in their centers and began serving them at drive-thru stations. In April, they expanded this service to include all Greenville County residents aged 60 and up.
“Everything was turned upside down — seniors have been the hardest hit and are needing services now more than before,” said Andrea Smith, executive director of Senior Action. “We had to quickly change our business model. In a normal month, we served about 5,000 meals. In April, we served 6,000. After we expanded to the whole county, it exploded to 19,000 in May.”
When Senior Action employees realized finding toilet paper was a concern for many, they worked with Greenville City Council member Joe Dill to get a supply to give to members picking up their meals, and they were met with joyful gratitude. They donned zany costumes to serve a Memorial Day drive-thru ice cream social, drawing a crowd of folks happy to have a reason to get dressed and go out.
“Our amazing staff really love these people and want to take care of them,” Smith said. “The silver lining for us is learning more members’ names and faces as they drive up to get their meals. We’re also reaching more people; we’ve added 1,000 to our roll, some of whom didn’t know Senior Action existed.”
Even with these changes and ongoing services like prescription pick-up and transportation to medical appointments, staff members remain concerned for seniors’ mental and physical health. They’ve been calling as often as possible to check on members.
“Seniors are already isolated, and we don’t know when this is going to end,” Smith said. “We’ve seen a difference in some who are not thriving. They’re feeling the effect of not being active. As one member said, ‘This is so brutal.’”
Senior Action reaches out to members on Facebook, sharing yoga, meditation and exercise classes. The organization’s concert band and a language class are meeting via Zoom.
“The pandemic has made extremely clear the gap among the senior population with technology,” Smith said. “We’ve got to get them more connected. Many don’t own computers, so we’re working on ways to show them how to use these applications on a smartphone.” The pandemic has also delayed remodeling of their new flagship center, originally scheduled to be completed this summer. The center will include state-of-the-art music and art studios funded by a grant from Greenville Women Giving, a special initiative of the Community Foundation of Greenville.
“Some funding had to be diverted due to the emergency. We’re applying for grants and are grateful for donations,” Smith said. “We hope to see it completed by the end of the year.”
As other parts of society open up, Senior Action members will be surveyed to determine what level of participation they are ready for. Setting up a drive-in movie is one option under consideration. Some members already gather in the parking lot to visit from a safe distance.
“This has reminded us how important the work we are doing is, when you see them without it,” Smith said. “We see our role as serving seniors, and whatever that means, we’ll do it. We’ll be creative and adapt.”
Early in the pandemic, the nonprofit managed without the help of volunteers, to limit exposure. Now serving an expanded clientele, with safety procedures in place, they are grateful for help from volunteers who are not themselves in a high-risk group.
“Now more than ever is a good time to serve seniors,” Smith said. “Our team is honored to serve these special people.”
For more information about services, or how to donate or volunteer, visit www.senioraction.org.