Helping The Elderly



Helping The Elderly

Sam Keursch’s grandparents wanted to get their COVID-19 vaccinations in January, so Sam watched how his father scheduled their appointments online. Sam, a 12-year-old New York resident, realized that seniors wanted to make appointments but were not very good with technology.

Inspired to help the elderly, Sam contacted his neighbor, Gitta Silberstein, a Holocaust survivor who is battling cancer. Silberstein said she wanted to get a COVID-19 shot before she started her chemotherapy.

Afterword got around about Sam, more seniors asked for his help. So, Sam set up a website. And, in only one month, Sam had scheduled appointments online for more than 1,000 seniors.

As Sam helped seniors in New York, the Blue Cherry Project was finding and helping older adults across the United States and Puerto Rico who were struggling to get COVID-19 vaccination appointments.

Janette Adams, a nurse practitioner who volunteers with the Houston-based Blue Cherry Project, said she wanted to do more for seniors who were not tech-savvy but wanted to get vaccinated.

“People were crying. They were telling me that they get to see their grandkids again,” Adams said. “It moved me.” 

Seniors nationwide are getting help from compassionate people who are giving up their time and energy to help the elderly stay safe. Scheduling a vaccination appointment sounds easy enough, but it’s a daunting task for those who are actually doing it. Computer glitches and longs waits for new appointment slots to open are just a few of the issues involved in making appointments.

The Vaccine Hunters in Montgomery County, Maryland, know the ins-and-outs—and disappointments—of finding and scheduling vaccination appointments all too well.

The Vaccine Hunters consist of eight high school teachers who work during the day and stay up for a good portion of the night to schedule COVID-19 vaccine appointments, even if it means waiting a long time for a slot to open.

“Who are we to decide who does and doesn’t get a vaccine? I have so many people here who want to get the vaccine,” said María Peterson, one of the Vaccine Hunters. Yet, one night she wondered, “how long do I wait?”

Since January, the teachers have helped more than 5,000 people.

Chicago Seniors Get Help With Appointments And Food

Seniors who are homebound usually do not have access to the Internet. Government officials in Chicago, Illinois, recognized this problem and now allow residents to schedule appointments over a multi-lingual phone line. Homebound seniors have the option of having the city’s fire department help them via the city’s Mobile Vaccination Program.

As the city offered its phone service, “Vaccinate Abuela Chicago,” a volunteer group on Facebook, formed to help people in the city’s Black and brown communities book vaccine appointments online.

Anna Lopez, a 45-year-old manufacturing worker, said she created the group after making appointments for her parents. Lopez’s friend, Esteban Andres Cruz, said it has been hard seeing city residents from neighborhoods hit the hardest by the pandemic struggle to find appointments online.

Besides vaccination appointments, some Chicago seniors are getting help with their meals. Jackson Chiu, owner of 312 Fish Market in Chicago’s Chinatown, says he serves food to two senior buildings in Chinatown every Monday.

The city’s largest Chinese supermarket, 88 Market Place, Chiu Quon Bakery, and the city’s police department are also helping out. Chiu sees this as his way of giving back to seniors who helped to build his community.

“As a small community like Chinatown, we have to work together in order to stay stronger,” Chiu said.

Scheduling Appointments Is Not The Only Problem

In Roanoke, Virginia, the Local Office on Aging (LOA) is looking for ways to help homebound seniors get COVID-19 vaccinations. The LOA serves over 40,000 seniors each year and oversees Meals on Wheel (MOW), a food delivery program supported by government funds and private contributions.

LOA President and CEO Ron Boyd say there is currently no way to vaccinate homebound seniors, especially those who live in cities. Even if officials find ways to bring mobile vaccination clinics into city neighborhoods, homebound seniors still can’t get to them, Boyd says.

MOW has been a lifeline for the elderly during the pandemic. However, the program itself has had its share of troubles as many volunteers who prepared and delivered meals—most of whom are seniors themselves—temporarily dropped out of the program.

Northeast Iowa Area Agency on Aging (NEI3A), which operates the Meals on Wheels program in 18 counties in Iowa, witnessed this firsthand. NEI3A CEO Mike Donohue said the pandemic “literally evaporated the volunteer base almost overnight.” So, the NEI3A turned to grocery stores and restaurants, like Bents Smokehouse, in Westgate, Iowa for help.

When the in-door dining service was shut down due to the pandemic, Sheila and Jason Bent said their restaurant in Westgate, Iowa, barely stayed open, even though they offered carryout and delivery. Some days “there wasn’t even $100 in the till,” Sheila said.

The Bents were offered an opportunity to partner with the NEI3A to cook and deliver food for the MOW program. Not only has MOW helped their business during the pandemic, the Bents say they have a contract to continue working with MOW through at least the summer of 2022.

“If it wasn’t for them, we probably wouldn’t be here,” Sheila said.

Caring for a Loved One With Alzheimer’s Disease

Before COVID-19, Connecticut resident Armen Arisian said he used to take his father to the movies twice a week. But since the COVID-19 outbreak, Arisian and his father, who has Alzheimer’s disease, have been pretty much confined to home over the past year. Nonetheless, Arisian made sure that his father received his first COVID-19 vaccination, and he will soon get his second shot.

Arisian’s life as a caregiver has been grueling over the past year, and now, his father’s health is declining.

“I cry regularly; I’m overwhelmed by the situation,” Arisian said.

Jennifer Labrie of the Connecticut Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, described it as a “superhuman task” to provide around-the-clock care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. The association, she said, offers virtual support groups and online activities to give families some relief.

Although the past year has been rough, Arisian said he’s thankful that he still has a father to hug and, he’s hoping that one day, he can take his father back to the movies.


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