Greenfield Senior Center reopening slowly, with programs by reservation

  • Greenfield Senior Center Director Hope Macary carries out free bags of books Thursday during a curbside pickup giveaway at the John Zon Community Center. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Joan Milnes, right, picks up free bags of books from volunteer Joanne Parsons during a curbside pickup giveaway held by the Senior Center at the John Zon Community Center in Greenfield. Below, the bags of books are from the Senior Center’s bookshelves. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Volunteer Joanne Parsons brings out free bags of books from the Greenfield Senior Center bookshelves Thursday during a curbside pickup giveaway at the John Zon Community Center. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 9/15/2020 4:10:58 PM

GREENFIELD — The Senior Center has started to reopen, but slowly and in phases, its director says.

Hope Macary said the Senior Center recently started welcoming back Greenfield seniors to its foot-care program, but only by appointment and one at a time in the building. She said seniors can return Sept. 21 to classes and programs that are by reservation, with up to 10 people being allowed at a time. Those include a writers group, sewing and knitting groups, a creative coloring group and Book Chat.

While the building at 35 Pleasant St. has been closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the center has been doing “lots of curbside,” Macary said, including grab-and-go lunches, monthly brown bag food distributions and distributions of protein boxes. Additionally, the city’s Emergency Operations Center set up in the center early in the spring but left a few weeks ago.

While some seniors have said they aren’t ready to return to in-person activities, Macary said others have been itching to do so. About 80 percent of the Senior Center’s roughly 3,000 members are Greenfield residents, and the rest come from other Franklin County towns, as well as Northampton.

“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve had 50 to 60 people picking up lunch every Wednesday and Thursday,” she said. “It’s very good for them. Even if it’s a quick smile — and we can all tell, even though we’re wearing masks — a ‘hello’ does good for them and us. What we don’t want is for seniors to feel isolated. That’s not healthy.”

Macary said the brown bag distribution has happened monthly for decades. Currently, it’s a collaboration of the Council on Aging, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and the Medical Reserve Corps, which has been sending volunteers the first Thursday of every month throughout the pandemic. She said people must register with the food bank (413-247-9738 or foodbankwma.org) to participate in the program and must be income-qualified.

The center has also partnered with LifePath to provide protein boxes.

“We offer 10-pound boxes of frozen protein, like sausage, cheese and chicken,” Macary said. “This happens once every two months. We did it twice this summer and gave away 1,000 pounds each time.”

Macary said the center’s work never ended during the pandemic, but the doors had to close to keep everyone safe. The center serves people ages 55 and up, one of the populations that is most vulnerable to COVID-19.

“When seniors return, they will return wearing masks,” Macary said. “We’ll take all the precautions. We’ll have groups in the morning and again in the afternoon. There will be a break between so we can clean and disinfect.”

Macary said Senior Center staff members and volunteers have been calling seniors at home since the building closed. After checking on everyone early on, they asked who would like to receive weekly calls. They continue to call about 100 people weekly.

Programs

To start reopening, Macary said, staff members are bringing back programs that allow people to maintain social distancing.

“We won’t be able to bring back things like card games and Mahjong, because they have to be in too close contact,” she noted.

The center will continue to provide some outdoor activities, including concerts in the parking lot and lawn exercise.

Plans for reopening fully, once the pandemic has passed, are ongoing. Macary said everyone, from Senior Center staff and volunteers to city officials and members, are involved in discussions about how that will happen.

“This is a group effort,” she said. “We’re so lucky to have this new building, though. The HVAC system is state of the art, and the air exchange happens several times an hour, so it’s one of the safest places you can be, except for home.”

Macary said the center also offers online programs, so seniors who have computers and internet can participate from home. One concern she has is that not all have computers or internet access, or the knowledge of how to use them.

“Loneliness can be very bad for their health,” she said. “If you can take a virtual tour of a museum or do some armchair travel, it isn’t quite so bad. That’s something I’d like to see looked at for our seniors.”

Macary said in-person classes and activities, though, have much greater attendance than those online.

“When we have an in-person class, we’ve had up to 40 people take it,” she said. “The same instructors give the same class online and we get one or two people in attendance.”

If there is another surge of COVID-19 in the fall, Macary said the center won’t hesitate to close again.

“We’re keeping an eye on public health metrics,” she said. “We’re very closely connected to the local Board of Health. It reviews our plans, helps us tweak things and is just so helpful. If the numbers start going in the wrong direction, we’ll be on top of it.”

Macary, who is a registered nurse, said she will lead the Senior Center through these times and be ready to make hard decisions.

“We’re ready to rise to the occasion and do right by everyone,” she said. “We’re ready to meet the future and whatever it brings.”

For more information, call 413-772-1517 or visit bit.ly/35n3ZQn.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.



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