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SERVICES for

SENIORS (and Mail Cheer for all!) BY KRISTINE JEPSEN

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or many during this pandemic, our Internet connections have turned into our social connections, giving us a view into a world we can’t visit in person. At times, it’s helped keep sanity. We moved our buying habits online, dialed up friends, family, and co-workers on Zoom or Facetime, or scrolled the Insta posts of our friends who got pandemic puppies. But for some seniors, shut-in residents, and individuals with disabilities in the Driftless – because they’re not connected to the Internet – COVID-19 meant an end to social interaction altogether. “As it became clear that older people were most vulnerable, hundreds of people disappeared from daily life, because they were likely safer at home,” says Kristie Wiltgen, regional coordinator of Northeast Iowa Area Agency on Aging (or NEI3A). Funded both by the state and the federal government, Agency of Aging serves Iowans age 60 and older – and younger folks with disabilities – from four centers statewide, with Decorah’s office reaching 18 counties. “The hardest blow, I think, was that we had to close our congregate meal centers – the highlight of many clients’ days,” Kristie explains. “It’s where people get the news of the day and check up on each other – it’s a camaraderie you can’t get over the phone.” To compound the issue, in-home support services for seniors in the Driftless run on a steady stream of retiree volunteer support, Kristie says, including members of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), who are naturally more cautious of personal health and safety. “Many of this generation have life lines to the influenza epidemic of 1918. They take the risks very seriously.” 48

Summer/Fall 2020 / iloveinspired.com

But at times, digital solutions just don’t cut it. There are certain things you have to have in hand to appreciate…or, obviously, on the table to consume. Agency on Aging pivoted their meals program, for example, to delivery of a week’s worth of frozen entrees, instead of hot meals multiple days per week. “You feel a little like a trick-ortreater,” Kristie explains with a chuckle, herself communicating via Zoom conference call. “Ring the bell with a bag. Talk awkwardly through a mask.” This brief contact still plays a vital role, she says, so mealbringers can ask in person how residents are doing. “You get as much from what people don’t say as from what they do, and it’s sometimes the help that’s offered even when it’s not requested that is really needed.” When local senior centers closed to observe COVID safety recommendations in Lansing, Iowa, along the Mississippi in rural Allamakee County, Shep’s Riverside Bar & Grill partnered with local grocers to serve free takeout meals. With Agency on Aging support, their daily output grew to more than 300 meals a day, serving more than 150 clients. “It’s the same with grocery stores, boxing up multi-meal kits and instructions for preparing meals at home – and avoiding unnecessary public exposure,” Kristie says.  “And I just have to shout out to the EARL Public Transit drivers,” she continues. EARL serves Allamakee, Clayton, Fayette, Howard and Winneshiek counties. “They do it all – they load meals and supplies and deliver door-to-door and report back on individuals they visit.” Another low-tech solution arrived in the form of old-fashioned letter-writing. Mail Cheer, an anonymous delivery service for handwritten notes, was launched in June through the Decorah

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