Christmas Drive-Thru Shows Seniors They Aren’t Alone

Elderly people suffered mightily during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Those with pre-existing conditions and advanced age fell directly into the crosshairs of the coronavirus. As people tried to protect their loved ones from exposure to the virus, the result ended up leaving many in the senior community feeling alone and isolated, separated from their family.

The Harnett County Division on Aging saw this first hand in 2020. From caregivers who take care of loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia to its Meals on Wheels program, staff at the agency continued their efforts to reach the people most impacted by the pandemic.

“It’s been very different,” Mary Jane Sauls, program administrator for the Division on Aging said. “Our senior population feels very isolated and it’s been very difficult. They’re scared and anxious and isolated. It’s had a more substantial impact on them. It’s very sad. We say Meals on Wheels is more than a meal, and it’s especially true during these times because they feel so alone and depressed.”

With COVID-19 shuttering nearly all holiday events and parties, the Division on Aging still wanted to do something for its senior population during the Christmas season. When employees from Boon Edam, a Lillington manufacturing company, offered to help by providing stockings stuffed with goodies, the agency took it from there.

On Thursday morning, the Division on Aging held a “Harnett County Family Caregiver Drive-thru Holiday Party” in its parking lot where seniors could ride up and receive a packed stocking full of household essentials, puzzles and masks.

“We’re just trying to spread some Christmas cheer to the best of our ability just to let them know we care about them and we’re thinking about them during the holiday season,” said Latorius Adams, a family caregiver support program specialist. “A lot of them have been dealing with depression and isolation just because they’re not able to get out.”

Thursday’s drive-thru highlighted Harnett County’s community outreach, as the event brought a government agency, a local business and an area church together in an effort to improve the lives of residents. The pandemic raised awareness of the virus’ physical impact on people, but the emotional toll suffered among those who can’t work remotely or have to take care of others gained little attention. Staff at the Division on Aging see the continued struggles every day.

“It’s been difficult trying to get to the caregivers and their families,” said Barbara White, regional family caregiver support specialist for Mid-Carolina area agency on aging. “Not everybody has the capability of doing things remotely, and the rural areas are very difficult. We’re just trying to do the best we can with what we have.”

Despite the challenges associated with social distancing, the Division on Aging kept plugging away, offering services such as in-home aid, retired senior volunteers program, grandparents raising grandchildren and the caregiver program.

“It has been a struggle but we have persevered,” said LeAnn Blackmon, Medicare coordinator for Harnett County and the director for the retired senior volunteer program. “We have come into work every day and our services have continued in all of our programs here. It’s just amazing what people this time of year will come together to do. We’re continuing to provide services, but it’s just a different time.”

The agency continued to rely on and receive support from community partners such as Liberty Baptist Church in Spring Lake. The church’s Life Group started assisting the county a few years ago, and their contributions took on added importance this year. Liberty Baptist helped purchase incontinent items for caregivers and sent out gift packages directly to those in need.

“In general, people who are elderly are feeling really isolated and lonely,” said Mary Foky, a life group leader at LBC. “In a time that’s economically and emotionally difficult, it’s really nice to be able to partner with some of them and hopefully bring them a little bit of a blessing in a difficult year. Especially around the holidays, people are more willing to give to young parents and families, which is great. Sometimes I think we forget about the elderly who have a lot of needs during this time as well.”

Don’t think receiving a stuffed stocking only brings a smile to children’s faces. Car after car pulled up on Thursday producing masked smile after masked smile on a chilly, cloudy morning.

“These ladies are great,” Annie Smith said after getting her stocking. “They’re not just people who are helping with the care-giving, they’re like family members. They take very good care of us and then some. This is great. When you least expect it, something good is happening.”

The elderly took on a heavy burden during the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff at the Harnett County Division on Aging, Boon Edam and Liberty Baptist Church members came together to show that seniors are not forgotten, and most importantly, not alone.

-Dunn Daily Record