Seniors Exemplify Resilience in COVID-19 Pandemic

A recent article from the Historical Society of Easton noted that “the essential quality of resilience has been a feature of its citizens.” Today that is exemplified by our senior citizens who are staying In their homes and following the guidelines to remain healthy and the many volunteers who are providing services to the elderly.  

Val Buckley, Director of the Easton Senior Center, recognized how important it would be to stay in contact with these seniors and to provide whatever help may be needed.  On March 23 she initiated the Friend in Need program. She and Randy Shapiro, assistant director, recruited 14 of the Senior Center volunteers for this program.  Each was given a list of seniors to call on a regular basis to determine if they needed groceries, medical supplies or equipment, or just someone to talk to.  

In addition to the volunteers, there are two quiet heroes who should be recognized.  Herbie Torres has been driving the Easton Senior Center van on Saturday and Sunday for 12 years. He is a thoughtful, caring gentleman who goes above and beyond the requirements of his job. 

About three years ago he began to do grocery shopping for the frail elderly whom he transports. He calls them every Friday to find out what they would like, and when he delivers the groceries, he also brings in their mail and often takes their recyclables and garbage out to the street. Some of these people live at the end of long driveways and are unable to walk that distance. Torres cares for them as if they were his family. 

The weekday driver is Dennis Scofield, who has been with the center less than a year.  Because of the shutdown there are fewer requests for transportation, but there are Easton residents who have to be driven to regular dialysis treatments, chemotherapy treatments and other necessary medical appointments. Only one passenger is allowed in the van at a time, and the van must be cleaned thoroughly after each trip. 

Scofield keeps in touch with his “regular” customers. Every Wednesday, he calls about 20 people to see if they are alright and if they need groceries. He shops and delivers food on Thursdays and Fridays. Both Torres and Scofield say that they love their job because, at the end of the day, they know that they have helped people.

Before COVID-19 became a reality for Easton, Susan Kaplan, principal of of Helen Keller Middle School, and Buckley planned a new version of Easton Seniors Day at HKMS. For several years there had been a special day for seniors to visit the school, attend classes and view exceptional presentations by the students. This year it was decided to have HKMS students spend a day at the Senior Center.  

All that changed on March 16 when a quarantine was enforced and the Senior Center was closed. The first week everyone was getting accustomed to what we hoped would be a short term isolation, but by the second week the realization set in that we would be confined for an undetermined period of time. 

Kaplan then decided to initiate a Pen Pal Program for her students and senior citizens. She shared this idea with Buckley who, with Shapiro’s help, immediately recruited seniors to participate. The students, who are used to instant messaging on their devices, would learn to write a social letter and then wait for the mailed reply. 

Conversations between generations would be an educational experience for all.  15 HKMS students who have been paired with seniors, and another 10 are in process. We hope that the program will grow and friendships will form and continue after the virus no longer is a threat.

The same week that Kaplan and Buckley initiated the Pen Pal Program, Chloe Kozendaal, a junior at Joel Barlow High School, called Buckley to ask if there was anything she could do to help the seniors in Easton. Buckley asked her if she would chair the effort to recruit Barlow students for the Pen Pal Program. Chloe affirmed enthusiastically and, to date, has 30 students in the program with more joining each day. Buckley continues to find seniors who would like to correspond with the students

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