Besieged by fears of the coronavirus epidemic, many senior citizens living in Butler County have come to rely on the help of others.
At Alameda Gardens, a low-income housing development for senior citizens in Butler Township, the 23 seniors living there turn to Barbara Donegan, the site manager.
Beth Herold, the director of the Butler County Agency on Aging, lauded Donegan's efforts, calling her a role model that others who deal with the elderly should be following.
“Everybody is scared right now. I'm not. I just don't have time to be. I take precautions, of course, but I have too much to do,” Donegan said. “When you're a retired senior you have time on your hands. You have your bingo and socializing and that's all stopped and they're scared.”
The global pandemic has infected at least 413,686 globally in confirmed cases and has killed more than 18,589 people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
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There are about 40,000 senior citizens living in Butler county, according to Herold.
Donegan and others said the precautions of self-isolation and social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus comes at a cost for the elderly, many of whom rely on home health aides and other services.
In Alameda Gardens and elsewhere, senior citizens are often limited in their transportation options, forcing them to rely on family and friends to get them basic necessities like food and water. But with the state governor's social distancing order and an expanding stay-at-home edict, families are often unable to visit their aged family.
“Their families work, or are out of town. They get lonely. It's hard for them,” Donegan said of the residents. “They can't always rely on their family at this time.”
Donegan is on call 24 hours, seven days a week and her time is split between buying supplies for her residents' food pantry and responding to individual requests.
“I put myself out there and told them if you need something I will go and do whatever I can for you,” Donegan said. “I'm willing to go out and get you whatever you need.”
And with bingo and other social activities canceled, the residents of Alameda Gardens watch television news, where the grim facts “get them more and more worried about the situation” Donegan said.
Her shopping forays are often frustrating, with essentials like water emptied from shelves. Because many of her residents have medical conditions, they cannot drink tap water.
Last Saturday, her day was spent dealing with a flood in one of the residents' homes and during much of the week she was making sure that all her residents are safe and have what they need.
How to help
Across the county, officials and volunteers are asking residents to consider the elderly by doing a number of things including: stop buying more produce, goods and toilet paper than needed, consider donating through the Butler County Agency on Aging and check on your neighbors.
On Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding “urged Pennsylvanians to return to their normal shopping habits to allow the supply chain to recover and allow enough essentials for all” in a prepared statement.
The statement went on to stress how people over-purchasing items and food hurts “the charitable food system that's currently working overtime to meet increased demands.”
Filling a gap
Earlier this week, the Meals on Wheels program that serves Butler city and township discontinued its services, leaving the county Agency on Aging to fill in the gap for residents served by that particular program, according to Herold.
All clients received two boxes of food from the organization which is estimated to last them for at least two weeks, according to an announcement on the Meals on Wheel's website.
Herold said the agency offered to take on the 90 or so people who relied on the Butler service. There are a total of eight Meals on Wheels programs throughout the county.
“We're booming right now,” Herold said about the increased demand for the agency's services. “We're trying to get food out to people, checking on them. All of our programs are busy.”
Herold said the agency, which delivers home meals to senior citizens, has added more than 100 home delivery meals since the beginning of coronavirus precautions.
“And as this continues people in the community that we serve will have more needs. Maybe they have stockpiles for now,” Herold said. “But what does this look like after three weeks? How about four weeks? And after?
“What happens when people get ill?”
Herold urged readers to call the agency at 724-282-3008 if they know any seniors who need help.
“Right now we're delivering but there will be a point where we're going to get too saturated and we can't deliver,” Herold said, noting that they serve about 3,000 to 4,000 people.
“There's still a huge chunk out there that we don't know if they need help,” Herold said.
She also noted that they are trying to reach elderly people who reside at the county's housing authority, where the offices have remained closed since March 19.
“I've been trying to figure out a way, a lot of individuals in the high rises have SNAP benefits but we haven't found a way to use their SNAP benefits to get them food,” Herold said. “You can't use a SNAP card for online grocery order so that becomes an issue.”
Edward Mauk, chief executive officer at the county's Housing and Redevelopment Authority, said while the agency isn't structured or funded to provide social services, staff help refer people to necessary services and agencies.
The authority physically manages 681 units, 581 of which are designated elderly units.