By Catharin Shepard •
Staff writer •
Hoke County Senior Services is helping feed more than 260 senior citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to an expansion of its Meals on Wheels program.
The department has overseen the Meals on Wheels program for many years, but when the Hoke County Board of Commissioners declared a state of emergency last month due to the coronavirus, the board authorized the department to expand the program.
Hoke Senior Services was delivering meals to 100 seniors, and providing food to another 98 seniors at the congregate meal program, Senior Services Director Mary Hollingsworth said. While they had to shut down the congregate meal program to remove the risk of spreading COVID-19 at the feeding site, they’re now delivering at-home meals to those citizens, too. The department added another 71 senior citizens to the program since then.
They’ve made changes to how the program operates to help keep people safe, Hollingsworth said in an email.
“To keep our staff and the clients safe we have changed the ways our seniors receive meals. Seniors on our congregate program are being provided five-day lunch boxes one time a week. These meals include frozen and or shelf stable meals,” she wrote.
Seniors who feel comfortable driving to the senior center in the Old Armory building on East Central Avenue can still pick up their meals. Staff members give them a date and time for the pickup. Then they drive to the back of the building, where staff members place the meals in their car.
Staff members who are doing home deliveries for Meals on Wheels are also taking precautions. They’re wearing protective face masks and gloves, and sanitizing their hands in-between each client.
“Our goal is to continue to provide services while limiting the risk to both the client and our staff,” Hollingsworth said.
Any senior citizen in need of a meal who has no ability to receive food can contact Hoke County Senior Services about the temporarily expanded Meals on Wheels program. Call the office at (910) 875-8588. The department needs the senior resident’s name, telephone number and address.
The department continues doing sales of Ensure for seniors as well. People who would like to purchase Ensure should contact the office. The department is offering curbside services at the back of the building.
“We are also continuing to assist the community with Lumbee River Electric with light bill assistance and Medicare Part D questions. Clients may contact our office for assistance,” Hollingsworth wrote.
During the pandemic, the department’s employees are also reaching out to senior citizens who might otherwise become socially isolated. The staff members are calling the seniors who participate in the congregate programs to speak with them each week and make sure they’re doing well, Hollingsworth said.
For seniors who want to find a way to stay active, the exercise program Silver Sneakers has provided workout programs designed for people age 65 and older online at SilverSneakers.com. These are exercises that seniors can do in the comfort of their own homes. Additionally, AARP has provided games online to keep seniors engaged and their minds sharp at www.aarp.org/games/online.
Overall, the Hoke Department of Senior Services is working to limit the number of people the staff members and senior participants come into contact with on a regular basis, to lessen the chance of spreading the virus.
“Our Senior Services staff are onboard with making sure our seniors are taken care of during this difficult. From ordering the meals, packing, planning routes and delivering, we are all in this together,” Hollingsworth said.
Senior Services thanked employee Walter Campbell, and Parks and Recreation employees Mitchell Bratcher, Larry McQueen and Joe Jacobs for their dedication. They have been “very instrumental” in delivering many of the meals to seniors in Hoke County, Hollingsworth said.
“I am extremely grateful and blessed to have a wonderful staff who are committed to our seniors, as well as our County Commissioner Board and County Manager because without all of us working together, we would not be able to provide these services to our community,” she said.