By Mike Jones
Something as simple as a Christmas card for homebound people can bring a smile to their faces during the holidays, especially in the midst of a pandemic.
Despite the rising number of COVID-19 cases, Albert Gallatin Human Services Agency is still helping seniors stay in touch by sending cards, giving people puzzles to take home with them, offering virtual Bingo sessions and delivering meals five days a week.
“Our staff is excellent at communicating and keeping a pulse on everything,” agency Director Kristin Dunham said.
The organization, which is run through the Southwest Pennsylvania Area Agency on Aging, is critical to keeping an eye on the most vulnerable population and keeping them active, Dunham said.
That would typically be done at the agency’s Masontown Senior Center, along with its satellite locations in Point Marion and Smithfield. But with the pandemic raging, the Masontown location can only be open two mornings a week – on Wednesday and Friday – with reduced capacity and registration required for attendees. The center follows stritk COVID safety protocols and offers socially-distanced Bingo and “self-contained crafts” to building.
The agency also offers “grab & go” bags for people who can travel, and deliver small fruit bags and cars to people who can’t.
“We have a volunteer on hand who makes very nice gift bags with candy and crackers to hand out for the holidays,” Dunham said. “We try to make some sort of difference, and this particular year everyone will get a Christmas card.”
- IF YOU WANT TO HELP: For information about how to donate to Albert Gallatin Human Services Agency, please call 724-583-7822.
But he most important function still remains the delivery of meals to homes, and the personal interaction it affords seniors.
“Drivers are making sure people are OK and not food insecure,” Dunham said. “(They) pick up idiosyncrasies with the consumer.”
And the need is increasing during the pandemic. Dunham estimates the homebound meals have increase 25-30% over normal years. They would typically produce 3,200 meals during an average month, but the agency delivered 4,890 meals in October alone. While the meals are free, a $2 donation is gladly accepted.
“The homebound meal requests have gone up quite a bit because it saves people from going to the grocery store,” Dunham said. “You get a nice, warm meal.”
The deadly pandemic has made the work more difficult for the staff and volunteers. While they continue to remain in contact with clients through telephone calls and home visits, they are done without touch, which can be especially difficult for shut-ins.
But Dunham said their work is critically important, maybe now more than ever.
“There’s a lot of anxiety (with) employees and clients,” she said. “It’s made it difficult because it’s a very anxious work environment when you’re constantly afraid of this virus and you still have to operate and take care of the most vulnerable in the county.”
Mike Jones is a reporter for the Uniontown Herald-Standard, a publishing partner of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story is being simultaneously published. Email him at [email protected].