BRICK – The township’s Senior Outreach Services has been busier than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the staff and clientele have had to adjust since mid-March when the state went into quarantine.
“We haven’t stopped any services; we’ve just had to modify how we deliver those services to seniors,” said Program Director for Senior Outreach Services Zulma Soto.
For example, staff members would normally do home assessments for seniors to determine their eligibility for different programs, but that was discontinued due to the coronavirus.
Now all assessments are done by phone, Soto said from her office in the VFW center on Adamston Road.
The Senior Services staff is able to determine what state programs seniors are eligible for and helps them to complete the applications.
Before the pandemic, seniors would get one-on-one help at the center, but now the paperwork is mailed, or seniors drive to the center and hand the paperwork to a staff member in the parking lot.
“If they have an issue – like if they’re homebound, or they don’t have a stamp, or there’s another obstacle – accommodations will be made to get documents from homebound seniors in order to complete their applications,” Soto said.
Some of the state programs for which seniors are eligible include prescription services like PAAD and Senior Gold. There is also help for paying utility bills with the Home Energy Assistance program.
Other programs for seniors include JACC, a state-funded home care program for people who are not on Medicare. There is also a property tax reimbursement for seniors and a Senior Citizen Discount on property taxes for those who are eligible.
Soto said other programs for seniors include Meals on Wheels and State Health Insurance Program (SHIP) to help Medicare beneficiaries navigate Medicare issues.
Brick Senior Outreach services up to 2,000 seniors a year, Soto said, and about 500 of those have needed help with paperwork.
Perhaps even more important than helping with paperwork is the center’s Wellness Telephone Reassurance program, which has increased during the COVID-19 public health crisis.
“We call to say hello and see how they’re doing,” Soto said. “Many of the seniors live alone, so we ask them if they have a need, or a concern. Many of them haven’t spoken to anyone in a while, and it might be the only phone call they receive,” she said.
The staff has made some 9,000 Wellness Telephone Reassurance calls since March, she said.
“We are hearing about a lot of loneliness, depression and worry, especially during COVID,” Soto said.
Township employees were given the opportunity to voluntarily take a furlough during the pandemic, so two of the center’s six employees are out, leaving Soto with a staff of four.
The phone calls have also uncovered some “food insecurity” issues, she said. Anywhere from 15 to 35 seniors come to the Senior Center for lunch every day, but the center has been closed, and the Senior Center shuttle buses has stopped their food shopping services.
The shuttle buses started delivering food baskets to needy seniors from Fulfill (formerly the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties) and from Seeds of Service in Brick.
Plentiful Plates, a 501c3 organization based in Point Pleasant, works with Bon Jovi Soul Kitchen and provides 50 meals every Tuesday.
Delicious Gourmet Market on Brick Blvd. provides 60 meals a week to the seniors, and Michael Cappello from Capri Business Development in Brick donated enough money to feed 40 families, Soto said. Community Services, Inc. still delivers food through their Meals on Wheels program.
Now the Senior Center is getting ready to have a soft opening. They will offer one class a day, including yoga, zumba, and tai chi.
Their pen-to-paper club will meet twice a month, and the book club will meet once a month. All classes and events will be limited to 20 people, and they must sign up in advance.
Bus pickups for grocery store shopping will also start up. There will be door-to-door service for three seniors, three times a day for a total of 18 people a day.
“We need to make sure our opening is done in a safe manner because we have a very high-risk population,” Soto said.
“We are busy. I don’t think we’ve missed a beat. We’ve tried very hard to meet the needs of our seniors,” she said. “We are here for them.”
For more information call Senior Services at 732-920-8686.