Senior Center: A Guernsey ghost town

Mark DeLap/Guernsey Gazette Meals on Wheels delivery person Shiela Oliver and chief cook Shirley Howell are part of a crew that packages and delivers between 40 and 60 meals per day to the seniors in Guernsey. With the seniors being self-quarantined to their homes, their social interaction has greatly dwindled.

GUERNSEY – The workers walk into the Guernsey Senior Center and something is missing of late. There is no laughter, no conversations, no hearing aids beeping and no community information. The seniors have all been quarantined and pretty confined to their homes.

“We miss our seniors,” Mistina Smith, site manager at the senior center, which is part of Services for Seniors, said. “They like to give us a hard time and all in fun, we pick on each other. It’s almost like you become a family.”

The senior center has been a social outlet for the elderly in Guernsey. Some who don’t have family have very little social interaction without the center. It’s a place to laugh, to cry, to vent, to rant and yes, sometimes even to complain a bit. It’s that safe family atmosphere that allows them to be themselves.

“You walk back there (the senior dining room) now and all the chairs are up on the tables,” Smith said. “Everything’s been sanitized. You come back there and it’s like, ‘where are my seniors?’ Cause I call them my seniors. They really have grown on me.”

Smith has worked at the senior center for five years and in that time she has never seen anything like what is affecting the senior community and her employees. She says that now, the only interaction has been to bring their meals to the respective homes and they maybe enjoy a 30 second hello and goodbye.

“Honestly, I think everybody is staying upbeat right now,” Smith said. “We’re working together even more so than usual. Also, so far, the seniors have remained positive and most importantly, healthy. Other than the desocialization part of it, being stuck in their homes has started to affect them.”

Smith says that some of the ways they are continuing to reach out to the seniors is through the interaction of the Meals on Wheels program and also the staff has been calling to check on them and perhaps have a conversation that may last from 10 minutes to 90 minutes depending upon who you are talking to, Smith said.

“We actually have signs that they can put up in their windows,” She said. “A green one, a yellow one and a red one. The green one is ‘I’m OK, everything’s good.’ The yellow one is ‘I need a few things, please call me.’ And then the red one is that we know to stop by and see what help they need.”

Every worker has their own separate area that they are normally in, but now, due to the many changes that this quarantine has brought, employees are crossing over to fill other positions. One that may have been doing janitorial, doesn’t find much to do without the seniors there, so they may move to help bag the lunches for the Meals on Wheels program.

“We’ve all been working in the dining room and the kitchen together,” she said. “It’s really kind of neat to all be a cohesive team like that in a group.”

The Meals on Wheels program has been swamped with orders as well as Curb-side Service. On one day alone the staff may put together 60 meals. Smith said that the center is averaging between 40 and 60 meals per day. The increase in meals has had all hands-on-deck and all employees leaving their own responsibilities to help meet the need. The challenge has been to not only pack that many meals, but to deliver them all. The employees have also been taking measures to keep their distance and wear masks and gloves. 

“Cheryl Hoff from the community of Guernsey has personally sewed 50 facemasks for the workers to utilize,” said the center’s chief cook, Shirley Howell, “proving once again that it has been a community effort noticing needs that they see and meeting those needs.”

“They like to visit a little,” said Shiela Oliver, senior center delivery driver, “so sometimes we run a little behind, and are not always too popular when we don’t deliver the lunches on time. Generally, though, we have a great group of seniors who are always glad to see us.  For the most part, they are positive and upbeat.”


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