senior center

Friends enjoy a game of bingo at the Athens Senior Center.

Many things around the country, and even the world, shut down in April 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic first reared its ugly head. Most establishments that drew a crowd were temporarily shut down, including the seven senior centers in Limestone County.

Though they may have been closed to the public, Limestone County Council on Aging Director Susan McGrady said her department did not close for “a single day” during the pandemic.

According to the agency's website, the council on aging utilizes available resources to empower older adults to enhance their independence, personal satisfaction, vitality and the ability to enrich the quality of life for themselves and others.

The agency provides services like transportation to doctors appointments and grocery shopping, hand-delivered meals to homebound seniors and other in-home services, nutrition and activity centers, legal and prescription assistance to people age 60 and older.

“When the Alabama Department of Senior Services shut down the senior centers statewide, we knew our seniors wouldn't be coming to the centers, but our department didn't close,” McGrady said.

Meals on Wheels

Instead the focus shifted to what the agency could do during the pandemic. This included making sure the Meals on Wheels program continued to run. Through it McGrady said seniors who are homebound can sign up to have a hot meal delivered to their home around lunchtime Monday through Friday.

She said those seniors who were able to travel to the senior centers could pick up a meal curbside style.

“We just worked through (the pandemic),” McGrady said. “Our office remained open, and we kept helping with things like prescriptions or assistance with Medicare.”

McGrady said the number of volunteers dropped during the pandemic, as citizens were encouraged t limit their activity outside their homes for a time.

This meant that council on aging office workers often ended up helping prepare and deliver the meals for the homebound service. McGrady said the Meals on Wheels recipients often have no one else with them at home or perhaps have adult kids who are working and cannot be with their aging parents at all times.

She said this makes the Meals on Wheels deliveries all the more important, as the visits provide a daily checkup for those on the list once a day, fives days a week.

“Meals on Wheels goes out about the same time, on the same schedule and with the same people each day,” McGrady said. “The volunteers knock on the door, and they don't just drop the meal and leave. If the person doesn't answer, there's a process we go through. It's a good check-in, and if someone lives alone, they know Monday through Friday someone is going to knock on that door.”

McGrady said the importance of these visits only grew during the pandemic, as families were increasingly unable to spend as much time together.

“You build a relationship with these people, and they are glad to see us,” she said.

Back in action

McGrady said she was anxious to get all of the council's senior services back up and running throughout the pandemic, especially providing transportation to doctors visits, grocery trips and the like.

She said in April of 2021 the centers were allowed to hold a limited number of events so long as they were outdoors. Then in May the council was told the centers could completely reopen the following month.

“I was so excited, but I was still asking about the transportation service,” McGrady said. “When we reopened the centers, we had lost a lot of people during the pandemic. Not all to COVID-19 — some moved in with family members or had to be placed in alternative care.”

She said she thought local seniors would gradually return to visiting the centers in person. She said she told her staff that no matter if one person or 10 came to the center, that was great.

“We're here to serve the people, and we're going to do what we do,” McGrady said. “Things picked up by the end of June, and by August we were seeing 20-30 people in the centers each day in addition to our Meals on Wheels. In September we were able to do transportation again.”

McGrady said she is “amazed and excited” at how things have mostly returned to the way they were before the pandemic struck.

Centers are back to hosting things like trips, games, dances, exercise and the like.

“I think socialization is one of the most important things for anybody, but especially for seniors,” McGrady said. Even getting up and coming to the center for a while is better than sitting in front of a TV all day and not going out. They are working those muscles and their brain, and they have friends to visit at the centers.”

The Athens, Elkmont, East Limestone, Tanner, Owens Senior Centers are open 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday thru Friday.  Goodsprings Senior Center is open 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Ardmore Senior Center is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to noon.

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