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In time of isolation, Tucson volunteers check in on older adults

In time of isolation, Tucson volunteers check in on older adults

From the Tucson-area coronavirus coverage: 665 cases in Arizona, COVID-19 deaths in Pima County rise to 4 series

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As the coronavirus keeps people at home and isolated, more than 1,100 volunteers with the Pima Council on Aging’s Neighbors Care Alliance are routinely checking in on older adults.

Through 19 programs, including Lend A Hand and Neighbors Helping Neighbors, volunteers mobilize to help seniors who may no longer drive, have disabilities or live alone.

However, because of the coronavirus, volunteers are now visiting with seniors over the phone, rather than in person. They are bringing them groceries and leaving them on the porch, rather than inside the home. The same goes for medical prescriptions, and volunteers can choose whether or not to drive a senior to necessary medical appointments.

A couple of neighborhood programs have decided to only check in on elderly residents over the phone, said Bridget Roads, outreach coordinator for PCOA’s Neighbors Care Alliance.

“The decision is up to each volunteer. I tell them to follow their hearts and guts,” said Roads, who can look for other volunteers to deliver services to older adults in need.

Because these services are well-established here, organizers say they have not seen a significant drop in volunteers during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We, as a community, must keep our eyes and ears open and offer a listening ear to the elderly in need,” said Roads. “Now that people are being told to isolate themselves, there is going to be needed reinforcement because our elders need to feel that somebody cares and they are not going to be neglected or forgotten in their homes.

“Right now is an opportunity to practice kindness,” she said, mentioning a reflection by Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, who said when he was a boy his mother would tell him: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

“The helpers rise up during the storm,” said Roads.

Volunteer Wallace Kinkade has worked for years delivering free produce and bread to 120 seniors in a dozen midtown and north-side neighborhoods through the nonprofit Lend A Hand program. This week, Kinkade worried about feeding the elderly because donations are dropping due to the outbreak.

On Kinkade’s delivery route is Brenda Miller, 80, who lives in the RillitoBend Neighborhood. Miller said she learned about the free bread and produce deliveries through a neighbor.

“I developed a heart problem and the food deliveries are very helpful because I cannot drive,” Miller said.

When friends cannot drive her to appointments, Lend A Hand volunteers also step up.

“What they do for me is invaluable. Making sure I get to my appointments and delivering groceries has been very, very helpful,” Miller said.

She said she does not feel anxious, nervous or scared about being in isolation at her home.

“I feel grateful for all that I have. I can read, sew, sit outdoors and listen to the birds in my backyard,” she said. “I can write notes to people, take walks, talk on the phone to friends, look at television and listen to (audio) books on CD.”

Another alliance program, the Sunrise Neighborhood Assistance Program, has volunteers telephoning nearly 80 clients in a northeast-side neighborhood. Most of the seniors do not drive and volunteers are making sure they have groceries and are having their needs met.

“We are encouraging them to keep up with their medical needs and contact their doctors about their appointments and see whether they are essential. We don’t want them out if they don’t need to be,” said Lynda Stites, the program’s volunteer coordinator.

“Our big goal is to make sure they are OK and to calm them,” said Rita Arancibia, managing director of the program. “We want to help reconnect them to resources in the community that they might need.”

“A beautiful light in all of this is that we are finding a community that is caring, kind and compassionate,” Arancibia said. “Neighbors are connecting with neighbors.”

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at cduarte@tucson.com or 573-4104. On Twitter: @cduartestar

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