BY EMILY GRAHAM
Schuylkill County Senior Community Centers will remain closed through January.
The centers, in Mahanoy City, Pottsville, Schuylkill Haven, Shenandoah and Tremont, closed in December following state COVID-19 guidelines.
They planned to reopen Monday, when the restrictions expired, but Coordinator Debbie Herb said they decided to stay closed through the end of the month.
“It’s for the health and safety of our seniors,” Herb said. “We definitely want our doors open to serve their needs and so they can have conversation with their friends. We’re hoping that in February that can happen.”
After the holidays, Herb said they would not know if people had been traveling or seeing family members.
Herb said the centers continue to provide meals and have volunteers make outreach calls twice per week to check in with seniors.
“We do know how important it is to feed them, emotionally and mentally as well,” Herb said. “If they do have any needs, or we perhaps sense a different voice or different attitude, we can always call the Office of Senior Services and let them know what’s going on, make a referral and someone would go out and check on them.”
Along with meals, Herb said they send puzzles, Fish Wrapper issues and nutritional information.
“We want to keep everyone’s brain active, to keep them away from the TV so they’re not constantly hearing bad news,” Herb said.
Herb said the centers provide a place for seniors to socialize and stay active, so loneliness has been a challenge to many.
“Giving them a place to go, to sit and read the newspaper and have a cup of coffee, put a puzzle together, play cards, keep their brain active, that’s the challenge,” Herb said. “Nobody ever dreamed this would happen and last this long.”
When the centers were open, Herb said they followed social distancing guidelines, and everyone kept their masks on all the time, which was difficult.
While some had decided not to come back to the centers since the beginning of the pandemic, Herb said many were excited to be back when they reopened in the summer.
“The days the doors opened were so full of joy to see everyone,” Herb said. “I know they miss the centers, but I also know that we miss them. They’ve become part of our family.”
Herb said they hope to reopen in February, but they are waiting to see if the case numbers go down.
“As much as we want the doors to be open, we also know we need to keep our seniors safe, and that’s our goal,” Herb said.
On Thursday, the state Department of Aging announced it is awarding $2 million in grants to Area Agency on Aging-affiliated Senior Community Centers, or SCCs. Each agency will receive nearly $5,000 for each eligible SCC.
SCCs will have until June 30, 2022, to spend the money on needs such as COVID-19 mitigation, capital improvements and renovations, programs and services, technology, nutrition services, marketing and outreach, and rent and utilities.
The Schuylkill County Office of Senior Services will disburse the funding to the county’s five SCCs, according to Jack Eilber, deputy communications director of the Pennsylvania Department of Aging.