When the coronavirus pandemic began, there was, as expected, a bit of uncertainty. With older adults considered high-risk, social distancing measures in place, and even some services being temporarily suspended, adjustments were necessary for our Kent County Senior Millage (KCSM) network to continue to serve seniors. However, one thing remained paramount: our partners’ commitment to taking care of older adults in need. The KCSM team truly rose to the challenge, thinking outside of the box of how to get seniors the essential supports they desperately required to stay healthy and well during this time.

To continue to make certain these needs are being met, the COVID-19 Senior Support Service was added to the millage lineup to help provide additional support for older adults and their family caregivers during this crisis. With the introduction of this service, our KCSM partners have been actively taking on new clients and continuing to serve existing clients through wellness checks and the delivery of essential items. Not only does this aid those who may be homebound, ensuring their health and safety, but it can also relieve some of the burden from the caregiver as well. 

ALL of our 34 KCSM agency partners are true heroes and we thank each and every one of them for rising to the challenge of taking care of our Kent County seniors during COVID-19. Below we hear from three; Meals on Wheels of Western Michigan, Moxie Life Organizing, and Senior Neighbors, as they share how they have adapted to continue to serve older adults and their family caregivers.

Meals on Wheels of Western Michigan: Feeding Seniors in Need

Below from Lisa Wideman, Chief Operating Officer

When Governor Whitmore issued the state of emergency and ultimately the stay at home order, Meals on Wheels Western Michigan knew a big challenge was coming. With older adults being the most vulnerable, action was needed quickly to ensure our seniors don’t go hungry. Immediately we ordered the products necessary to produce over 1800 shelf-stable meal boxes. Each box contained 14 meals in case a shutdown became necessary. Because of the safety of our clients and our staff is a top priority, we immediately began sourcing masks and hand sanitizer. Our IT department quickly configured laptops to allow staff to work from home if they were able. We have currently started more than 600 new people since the stay at home order was issued. This is an increase of 25%.

The influx of new seniors has greatly tasked our intake department and our assessors who can no longer personally visit with clients. We engaged some KCSM partners to assist with returning calls and filling out online intake forms. Assessors have shifted to a telephone assessment system and are all working from home.

With regards to home-delivered meals, we have adopted a procedure to minimize contact of having our drivers pull up and get their meals instead of coming inside. Delivery drivers have been instructed to leave meals outside a senior’s door after verifying they are safe. Some of our seniors can’t come to the door which presents a challenge. Our drivers are instructed to enter the home using a mask and gloves and maintain a 6-foot distance.

Our congregate meal sites had to close immediately, and a plan was necessary to make sure the seniors do not go hungry. Grab and go meals were developed and are currently distributed at the locations which have been able to remain open. Our pantry remains open and has shifted from a self-select shopping experience to a pre-packaged box of food, good for two visits in order to limit the number of times a senior needs to come to the pantry. The food is delivered directly to the senior’s car.

All accommodations to ensure our seniors do not go hungry. Our team has been working around the clock, and the thanks we receive from older adults has been very gratifying. We regularly receive thank you notes, such as the one above, that make the extra work well worth it! To All -- Thanks fo much for all your efforts, and you do everything so well! The food is great! You all are really appreciated! Be sure those in the kitchen see this also!

www.mealsonwheelswesternmichigan.org | Phone: (616) 459-3111 | Email: info@mowwm.org 

Moxie Life Organizing: Embracing the COVID-19 Senior Support Service With a Little Moxie 

Below from Co-Owner Kate Wert, LMSW

During the COVID-19 pandemic, our business been fearful, but only momentarily. It became an opportunity to become stronger and show our true Moxie.

Our seniors need our help. As business owners, there were feelings of helplessness since we were no longer able to readily enter the home to help clients declutter and organize. We still felt a sense of responsibility. We knew our team wanted to show support in other ways, but we were unsure of how that might look. Immediately upon release of the COVID-19 Senior Support Service, we put together a response team - which we later coined "Senior Support Sisters". :) We were amazed by the volume of team members willing to assist as we organized scripts, protocols, tracking systems - and so many Zoom meetings and emails! 

While a crisis can pull people apart, it brought our team closer together. Our team members are very hard workers - and our regular scope of work is very physical and often emotional. I am proud we were easily able to craft a team willing to help our older adults, with a very new approach to service. Our work with KCSM COVID-19 Senior Support, much like in the home, was emotional - addressing the overwhelm, feelings of helplessness, and total loss of control. Through senior wellness check-ins (via phone call) our work became much less goal-oriented and much more focused on the present. There was much room for healing when able to "hit the pause button", regaining a level of normalcy amidst chaos and unknown, if only for a moment. And it was important to always find room for laughter.

Working together with Meals on Wheels to secure food for seniors was without question, not just a job - but a duty that we could not walk away from. This not only strengthened our relationships with older adults in Kent County, but with our partners - some we are yet to meet beyond email, phone call, and the occasional meeting. Providing food for seniors and keeping them inside and safe was essential and we knew we could help. We realized through this that we may not be "Shipt" shoppers and have a ways to go when it comes to personal shopping for someone never met - but that we were able to secure a need readily, without the looming what-ifs or anxiety of how to.

Rosemary Crowe, a COVID-19 Senior Support Client shared, “Kate is just wonderful. I am so grateful for her willingness to shop for me since I live alone and can’t go out and about due to my health condition. She hooked up with Meals on Wheels, which has been great to receive. Through our regular phone calls over the last month, I truly feel like she has become a friend.”

www.moxielifeorganizing.com | Phone: (616) 777-7347  | Email: hello@moxielifeorganizing.com 

Senior Neighbors: Care Through Community

Senior Neighbors works to enhance the lives of Kent County seniors through their five seniors centers and by providing a wide range of essential services. This looks a little different these days, as their senior centers have been temporarily closed. However, this hasn’t stopped Senior Neighbors from continuing to rely on the sense of community they have built for many members in order to get seniors the vital items they need. Their centers have become a hub for seniors to pick-up meals and “senior safety kits” which include hand sanitizer, soap, masks, and other essential items. Their downtown Grand Rapids center is conducting a daily sack lunch distribution since some of the population that they serve do not have homes. At their other centers, they are handing out a week’s worth of frozen meals at a time, all to ensure older adults have food.

Going virtual has been another way that Senior Neighbors has adapted to current times. Their recent “Meet Your Neighbors” virtual fundraiser explored how they have been serving seniors in Kent County. The virtual fundraiser was a success in that not only did it raise money for their cause, but it provided an inside look at their various programming during COVID-19. You can give this a watch here. In addition, Senior Neighbors has continued to rely on that sense of community they have at the centers through virtual social and wellness activities. Their Healthy Aging classes have transitioned to the Zoom platform and other activities have included bingo over the phone, weekly book club phone calls, and activities sent to members through the mail.

Senior Neighbors has continued to hit the road with their transportation services, their bus fleet is picking up necessary items for seniors and distributing them to their homes. For essential travel, the vehicles have also been used to take seniors to medical appointments and grocery stores, with one client at a time to maintain social distancing. Transportation is key to independence, so maintaining this for older adults at this time has been crucial.

The staff involved with Senior Neighbors has exhibited their fortitude every day during this crisis. Their team of Care Managers is continuing to meet with clients virtually through video chat or phone calls. Care Manager Jody received the thank you letter on the right from a gentleman who receives weekly "check-in" phone calls from her. He was recently widowed and the calls have made such a difference to him by letting him know, he is "No Longer Alone."

These notes are a true testament to the relationship Senior Neighbors' Care Managers build with clients. This is also apparent as Care Managers do not hesitate to run errands, get groceries, and pick up medications for those who need assistance. The volunteers of Senior Neighbors have been hard at work helping to conduct wellness checks, knitting mask straps for healthcare workers, and sewing masks for the general public.

www.seniorneighbors.org | Phone: (616) 459-6019 | Email: info@seniorneighbors.org

If you would like to learn more about our network of KCSM partners and services available you can see our 2020 KCSM Services Directory. For further details on the new COVID-19 Senior Support Service, click here or call (616) 456-5664.

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