Wayne Dennicort heads to his seat with a tray of food during St. Lawrence County Office of the Aging's Nutrition Program lunch at Potsdam Midtown Apartments in September 2017. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

CANTON — The St. Lawrence County Office for the Aging is continuing to play a crucial role for the large aging population, a population that has possibly needed the agency more now than ever, according to office Director Andrea M. Montgomery.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office for the Aging had about 450 clients to whom they delivered meals, with about 300 people taking advantage of the agency’s congregate meals.

Since the congregate meals closed, at home delivery has jumped to about 650 and climbed with older community members and the most vulnerable being urged to stay at home do the high contagion factor of the COVID-19 virus, also known as novel coronavirus.

“The need is there and we are happy to be able to be a resource for older adults at a time when I don’t think they probably needed us more, certainly not in any of our lifetimes,” Mrs. Montgomery said. “Our biggest goal in all of this is making sure everyone is fed and that they have food ... reassuring folks that we will be open no matter what, someone will be answering the phones at the Office for the Aging, no matter what happens.”

However, volunteer numbers dropped following the release of federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines about volunteering and the risk category, with most of the people who were volunteering for deliveries being at risk, agencies such as United Helpers, The ARC Jefferson-St. Lawrence and aging retirees, Mrs. Montgomery said.

“So two weeks ago we put out a call that we were at a critical need for volunteers and I was so pleased and impresses to see that over 120 community members reached out to us for assistance and the calls are still coming in,” she said. “Absolutely phenomenal response from our community looking for help.”

She said the county’s new youth Bureau Director Alexa J. Backus jumped in and coordinated all of the volunteer efforts for the past two weeks and getting volunteer plugged into the eight nutrition centers throughout the county and created a data base with all the volunteers’ contact information.”

Right now, volunteers not being utilized for a meal program will be used in a new program that the office is creating called the Telephone Reassurance Program for older adults that will be a weekly or twice-a-week check in to see if they need anything.

The program is for any older adult in need and is not only for those having food delivered. They can just call the Office for the Aging and have their names added to the program at no cost.

It will also act as a social call as well, Mrs. Montgomery said.

“Isolation and depression as you can imagine, already, are an issue for older adults in our community and certainly we’re concerned about long term isolation due to the pandemic,” she said. “We are taking names now and we are going to start phone calls to the clients that we already have this week and our friendly volunteer will give them a call and talk about anything from TV to the weather to, I’m sure, COVID. So that will be going this week and it will be expanded on in the weeks to come?

The big need that Mrs. Montgomery emphasized was that people should stay home and she has seen a lot of older adults not taking the pandemic seriously.

“You have two schools: you have the folks who are very afraid and they are home and I want to let them know that if you don’t have any other resources and you are running out of food, certainly the Office for the Aging is there to call on and help,” she said.

And for the other folks who are still living life as normal?

“I think really cautioning both older adults and really the rest of the community, to heed this advice,” she said. “The more everyone who can, who is not an essential worker, stays home, the shorter this will be. Hopefully we can prevent disastrous consequences in our community if we all abide by the rules. This means really emphasize in social distancing, keeping six feet away, asking yourself before you go out of the house, is this essential? Can it wait? Social distancing means not going to someone’s house unless you live there.”

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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