A compassionate epidemic for Mother's Day: Highly contagious, unresponsive to social distancing
Last updated 5/13/2020 at 10:28am
Every year, the Saturday before Mother's Day, 60 to 70 people would gather at the Edmonds Senior Center for the annual Mother's Day salmon luncheon. The meal of fresh salmon, mashed potatoes and asparagus was prepared by staff and volunteers and was always a hit.
This year, due to the Governor's" Stay at Home, "Stay Safe order, the luncheon was canceled, along with other Senior Center programs and activities. When the first call came in inquiring about the luncheon, it had the tone of "I know there's a pandemic, but what do you plan to do about the Mother's Day luncheon?"
Some things are sacred.
The Senior Center staff had just launched Project Senior Connect, a set of new services and strategies to increase our connection to our members while they shelter at home. The new program includes daily home delivered meals, telecounseling with our social worker and our RN, masks, and our first live-streamed exercise class.
The logical answer to the caller's inquiry was this: We will be delivering your Mother's Day lunch to you at home.
Thanks to our partnership with Shubert Ho and his team and generous support from the mayor and supporters, an army of volunteers will deliver 150 salmon lunches (with mashed potatoes and asparagus) to our members at home.
The list of recipients will include staff and residents of Rosewood Courte Memory Care, who have been hit especially hard by COVID-19.
Another (low-tech) strategy the Senior Center employed this week to connect with its isolated members was to call every member by phone to check in. The board of directors and staff divided up the list of more than 800 members.
Board President Gary Haakenson was first to report back on his calls. He wrote, "Oh my goodness! I just finished my call list of 25 ESC members. What a delightful experience. I heard from many who were actually helping others. All in all, they were a great group to talk with, especially the three over-dash-90 ladies that I had the pleasure of speaking with. For those of you who volunteered to make calls, I hope the experience is as rewarding for you as it was for me."
Thrift Store manager BJ Whitman said this about her calls, "If we continue to make these calls, I would love to keep my list. Each member I talked to was incredibly grateful for the call and impressed with what services we are offering. I was so proud to call and deliver the messages and share our concern for member's welfare."
Board member Cheryl Reagan called me to report that one number on her list led her to Michelle in North Carolina (not a member). The wrong number turned into a long conversation and heartbreaking story about Michelle's daughter, who works in a nursing home where 23 of the residents had died of COVID, and the staff have no masks and wore only scarves!
Cheryl, a former nurse, mailed her five masks. A later Facebook post about the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) at the nursing home led to a mask response from all corners of the country.
When I made my calls, I had an engaging conversation with Connie (age 84). She and her husband had been active members at the Senior Center. Sher told me her husband passed away two years ago, but her kids check on her regularly.
A self-described "glass half full" person, she talked at length about how blessed she is and about the full life she as lived. When I told Connie we wanted to bring her a Mother's Day salmon lunch on Saturday, she said, "You're making me cry. I would love that, and I would like to help make the other delivers."
I graciously declined the offer and reminded her she had just told me her kids will not let her leave the house.
Pitching into make calls was my wife Elaine, a fellow social worker and therapist. I could hear laughter in the other room where she was making calls. She came out of the room and said, "Daniel, I am leaving you for Joe. He is 100 years old, completely sharp and dances the jitterbug!"
Joe had been a regular at our Friday dances and has danced all his life. He told Elaine, "They used to call me Smooth Joe."
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted all our lives and has been the source of unimaginable loss for many families.
Within this surreal climate of uncertainty there have been inspiring acts of compassion. Like a viral outbreak, these acts have sparked more acts of kindness spreading throughout communities across the country unchecked – humanity at its best.
Daniel Johnson is executive director of the Edmonds Senior Center.