The spread of COVID-19 since March of last year has led Senior Services to adapt its programs to the changing needs and circumstances of the seniors and caregivers they serve. Sharon Calloway, coordinator for the Senior Lunch program, has been particularly concerned about how COVID-19 has impacted the senior participants in her program. Pre COVID-19, Senior Lunch was a program for active and mobile older adults, who got together three times per week to share a meal, a bit of camaraderie, and lots of laughs. Prior to the pandemic Calloway scheduled activities such as health screenings and cooking classes for seniors enrolled in the program and conducted program participant reassessments. COVID-19 changed things. The Senior Lunch participants, who view each other as family, have been unable to gather face-to-face for over a year. The lack of personal connection has been trying for them and for Calloway. “Pre-pandemic, they were like a big family,” Calloway said. “If someone didn’t come on a day they were supposed to, the others would call and make sure they were okay. They talked with each other outside of lunch, went out to eat, and went shopping together. It was wonderful. Now, I’m not sure how they could do that? They occasionally still speak on the phone, but it’s nothing like before.” The lack of social interaction is a glaring concern that affects participants’ wellbeing. “It’s been extremely challenging,” Calloway said. “They [seniors] miss it. They miss each other.”
Even as there were times during the past year that seemed overwhelming, Calloway has stayed poised and resilient. To comply with COVID-19 health and safety protocols, Senior Services discontinued in-person lunches but modified the service to offer frozen and shelf-stable meals delivered to participants weekly. Still, Calloway recognizes the difficulty in creating social opportunities for them while isolated in their homes and away from friends and the community they have forged through the Senior Lunch program. She’s been coordinating multiple efforts to provide nutritious meals, support, and engaging activities to Senior Lunch participants remotely.
While on-site activities are suspended, the Senior Lunch program continues contactless delivery of monthly activity packets that contain puzzles, crafts, nutrition information, and other activities. These packets allow participants to bring some of the fun experiences of Senior Lunch to their own homes. Calloway said that site managers would soon host group activities via zoom so that participants can connect socially. In addition, with the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out underway, there is hope that participants will soon meet together in person.
Calloway has made other efforts to connect with participants. She has delivered meals and made more phone calls to older adults enrolled in the Senior Lunch program. Her conversations with them have broadened her perspective on the burden of coping with challenges caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. The past year has ultimately made Calloway more empathetic towards participants and more aware of the need for social interaction in the community.
Although participants cannot gather at any of the Senior Lunch sites, the friendly atmosphere cultivated there is ingrained in the staff who regularly communicate with seniors. “COVID-19 is challenging, but it’s brought out the best in a lot of people,” Calloway said. Calloway has seen many staff members take the initiative to go above and beyond expectations to meet participants’ needs. She recalled that one of her co-workers in the Meals-on-Wheels program safely delivered soup to one of the participants, who wasn’t expecting the kind gesture. With warm smiles and nutritious meals, Senior Services has filled a void of companionship for many in the community.
During her 13-year career with Senior Services, Calloway has always been proud to work with the organization. However, she is even more proud now to work at Senior Services, as staff and a few volunteers have stepped up to deliver meals, make calls and find other ways to support participants. “It’s been quite inspiring to see this community and organization come together,” she added. Calloway hopes that the community can help spread the word about the organization so even more people can access essential services.
As COVID-19 continues to impact Forsyth County, Calloway will draw positivity from the humor and laughter she experiences in everyday life, as she has throughout this trying year. Senior Services will likewise aim to provide much-needed support to seniors and caregivers in the community and plan for when participants can once again convene over a wholesome meal.