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Helping older adults combat a quarantine

It’s Friday morning and volunteers are unloading about 4,000 pounds of food and household items off a Mid-Ohio Foodbank truck parked at the Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resource Center (CRC).

It’s Monday and more volunteers, decked out in face coverings and gloves, are packing necessity bags, which will be delivered to older adults across Franklin County by more volunteers on Tuesday and Thursday.

It’s Wednesday – OK, it could be any day of the week really – and more volunteers are taking phone calls from isolated adults 65 years and older scattered throughout Franklin County.

This is all part of Age-Friendly Columbus and Franklin County’s  partnership with Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resource Center, in response to support older adults through the COVID-19 outbreak. Age-Friendly is an initiative through Ohio State’s College of Social Work that works with older adults in the community to help inform ways to enhance various aspects of its community, whether it’s improving public parks or accessibility to transportation.

However, since the COVID-19 shutdowns in mid-March, Age-Friendly has pivoted its efforts to helping the older adult community by addressing food insecurity, by delivering necessity bags, and trying to prevent feelings of isolation, through a friendly phone line.

“Before the shutdowns, many older adults in our community probably didn’t need a lot of help,” said Katie White ’07, ’20, BS, MSW, director of Age-Friendly Columbus and  Franklin County. “In fact, older adults are the backbone of nonprofits in our community, serving as valuable volunteers for so many organizations.

“All of the sudden, with all the COVID-19 restrictions, they weren’t able to volunteer and continue to do their work contributing to our community in so many ways. They went from independence to new restrictions and new challenges. So what we’re doing to give back to them is really an honor.”

The friendly phone line is staffed by volunteer social work students, staff, faculty and community volunteers. It welcomes phone calls from older adults for informal conversations and social connection to help combat feelings of loneliness. Since starting, the phone line has received over 1,200 calls totaling nearly 90 hours of conversation from volunteers who have provided over 1000 hours of coverage.

“We knew there’d be an explosion of people who needed support because people were suddenly isolated,” said Marisa Sheldon ’10,’11, BSSW MSW, assistant director of Age-Friendly Columbus and Franklin County. “And we’ve had a really high number of calls, so we’ve been proud of the work that’s happening.”

Meanwhile, more than 2,200 necessity bags have been delivered to 46 zip codes across Franklin County through Age-Friendly and staff and volunteers at Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resource Center. Those bags include three to five days’ worth of food from the Mid-Ohio Foodbank along with other household items such as soap, shampoo and toilet paper. The bags also have community resource information, notes of encouragement written by volunteers and a File of Life, a magnet that can be put on a refrigerator with all emergency contact information first responders could use if they are ever called to a home.

“We’ve heard a lot of heartfelt words of thanks; people feel cared for during a time that can be pretty painful,” White said. “We’ve been lucky to be able to hit pause on what we were doing, partner with an anchor institution like CRC, and react to fit into those spaces in the community where we could fill a sudden unmet need.”

Published: June 19, 2020 

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