Retirement community gets a little too quiet


During ordinary times many of my neighbors in our retirement community live pretty quiet lives, by choice. But since there are a handful of us who organize and put on social events —  theme dinners, guest performers, Bible study, Friday night bingo — people have a chance to get out and mingle if they want.

The stay-at-home order has changed everything.

No more face-to-face gatherings of any kind!

These days, we may see a neighbor and call out a greeting from our porch, but since it’s been raining for the last few days, even that contact is gone.

Many are home alone with no one to talk to.

As you might imagine for a retirement community, more than half of our neighbors live alone. We knew when the coronavirus hit that this was going to be a tough time – a time when older people living alone could get lonely, frightened or, worse, get sick or even die.

And in the worst of cases, no one would know.

So two weeks into the stay-at-home order our Emergency Response Group set up a “Good Neighbor Check-In” project. We enlisted volunteers willing to call neighbors on the phone “just to check in.” The project took shape over a single weekend, and it’s been going strong. I just got an update report from another of the callers today.

We try to help callers by feeding them information to share, such as what transportation is available, and phone numbers to call for medical and mental health help. (If you’d like copies of the planning documents we used for our Check-In project, drop me an email.)

Some neighbors are unwilling or unable to shop for food.

Shopping has become a big effort for many of our most elderly neighbors. Stores have instituted “senior shopping hours,” which help. (“We may check your ID!” generates good stories!) But seniors are vulnerable, by definition. So shopping becomes a scary event.

In light of all this, parts of our retirement community step up.

Of course, we share, one household to another. (I think I wrote about how Joe and I had traded two rolls of toilet paper for a jar of mayonnaise.)

The food deliverers . . .

Today a local food pantry and church kitchen arrived with a truck full of boxed meals. In the pouring rain our Emergency Response Team volunteers organized a drive-thru line. We set it up using cones, DO NOT CROSS tape and strategic arrows so people wouldn’t be able to cut in line – and would be able to pick up food without getting out of their cars. (People who don’t drive made reservations via our automated OneCall system, and received a box on their doorstep delivered by volunteers from the church.)

First cars in line — two hours BEFORE the designated time. Later, the line extended as far as you could see and disappeared into the distance . .

I can’t say the whole thing went perfectly smoothly. It rained and it poured. If you’ve dealt with elderly drivers the popular expression “herding cats” springs immediately to mind! But it did take place, and 130 or so households got food.

The mask makers . . .

All our Emergency Response Team traffic volunteers arrived with walkie-talkies, gloves and masks. We always have the radios, but gloves and masks came from other neighbors. Another stay-at-home group here in the neighborhood has been sewing masks for just this purpose! (We have had to put together a strict system for requesting and then picking up masks. It has included emails being sent out in Chinese as well as English!)

We heard today that as of Friday, every person going about “essential business” in California will need to be masked.  So, our sewing team will be doubling up their efforts to provide masks for all the people they can!

Frankly, when I got home today I peeled off my wet clothes, washed my hands, heated up a can of chicken noodle soup for a late lunch, and then both Joe and I took a nap. I’ll be writing up a real “after action” report for the event today, but I thought maybe you might like hearing what it was like.

Here in our quiet, oh so quiet, senior community . . .!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

April – Month of Action

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