SHIAWASSEE COUNTY — After retiring seven years ago, Carol Milmine of Durand made the Durand Senior Center her “retirement workplace,” giving herself a reason to get up and moving in the morning.
But since the Shiawassee Council on Aging’s three senior centers, in Durand, Owosso and Morrice, closed Monday until at least April 6 amid concerns about the coronavirus, Milmine finds herself spending more time than she wants to at home.
However, she is grateful that all three centers continue to offer takeout lunches and delivery of meals to homebound senior citizens.
“The fact that we can still get meals is awesome,” Milmine, 80, said Tuesday. “But it’s not just a place to get meals, it’s a place to socialize. It definitely impacts me.”
The coronavirus pandemic now underway has forced closures and cancellations around the world. Most people recover with few or no symptoms, however, health officials say senior citizens are substantially more vulnerable to serious problems or death than younger people.
Cynthia Mayhew, executive director of the Shiawassee Council on Aging, said the centers are implementing social distancing by canceling all group activities. Their main focus is to ensure that seniors will continue to receive food services.
“The first thing we want to do is to keep seniors safe while continuing services as much as we can,” Mayhew said Monday. “Some seniors are worried we are going to close and they are not going to get access to food. That’s a big deal to us, and this is a solution.”
Seniors can reserve a meal by calling one of the centers before 9:30 a.m. Monday through Friday. Pickup time is 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
In addition, nonperishable emergency meal boxes are available on a first-come, first-served basis. They can be picked up from the centers without a reservation by anyone age 60 or older, Mayhew said.
The centers will keep delivering meals to homebound seniors, currently about 300 people. But no new names will be added except on an emergency basis, with a referral from a doctor, hospital or nursing home, she said.
Also continuing are in-home services, personal care and respite for those who are currently signed up.
Caregivers will be vigilant in not entering homes where clients or family members are ill or appear to be ill, Mayhew said. Caregivers who are themselves ill are asked not to come to work.
“I feel lucky I’m still mobile and sharp and healthy,” Milmine said. “But if for whatever reason these home-delivered meals are stopped, and they could be, that’s where I see a huge impact.”
In addition to providing food, volunteer deliverers often spend time with the seniors they serve.
“They love their jobs, and going out and interacting with seniors,” Milmine said. “For some people, (the volunteer) is the only person the senior sees that day.”
On Monday, when the restrictions took effect, the Owosso Senior Center provided 18 takeout meals, Durand provided 12 and Morrice, 10. Meal reservations are expected to climb over time, officials said.
“People picking up lunches here have been very understanding,” Catrina White, the Durand site coordinator, said Monday. “They know we’re trying to keep them safe. They appreciate that we’re making lunch available to them.”
The centers are all unlocked, but those coming to pick up meals are confined to a receiving area in the lobby that center workers are keeping sanitized, officials said.
When word came down last Friday that the centers were going to be restricted in the wake of coronavirus concerns, Kim Kollek-Jewell, the site coordinator at the Morrice Senior Center, spent the morning on the phone, notifying regular center visitors.
Kollek-Jewell said the seniors she has spoken with have been very understanding about the restrictions, but are disappointed that exercise classes, euchre groups and other programs have been canceled for now.
“The worst part is that we have had to cancel the income tax services we provide this time of year,” Kollek-Jewell said. “That’s disheartening, because it’s an important service.”
Milmine said previously she visited the Durand Senior Center nearly every day. She has enjoyed attending coloring classes, making quilts for hospital patients, and serving on a center committee.
“I can’t be a do-nothing senior,” she said. “So, I’m going to stay at home and crochet an afghan, bead, read, color, sew and knit. And I’m cooking more than I want to. I do miss the center.”
Mayhew expressed concern about having to take safety measures that socially isolate senior citizens, a segment of the population that is already socially isolated.
“We’re still answering phones, and we would encourage anyone who is 60 or older and in crisis to call us,” Mayhew said. “We will work through their crisis together.”
For more information, call the Owosso Senior Center at (989) 723-8875, Durand Senior Center at (989) 288-4122 or Morrice Senior Center at (517) 625-4270.