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COVID-19 seniors
FILE PHOTO Theresa Bury Van Maerssen teaches a Sit and Be Fit class at Edgemont Park House in December 2019. Senior activities are among the events in Montclair disrupted by COVID-19.

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

With the COVID-19 outbreak shuttering schools and disrupting senior events in Montclair, community groups and organizations are working to ensure that Montclair’s vulnerable populations don’t fall further into need.

The township began canceling senior activities, including events at the Edgemont House, last week. The Montclair Film Festival also called off its film screenings for seniors during the month of March, and the Montclair Institute for Lifelong Learning (MILL) has also suspended classes and events.

The township is working on arranging outreach programs to make sure senior citizens’ needs are met, including needs for socialization: “Township staff members are working with volunteers to arrange for regular phone contact with our more vulnerable program attendees to ensure their well-being. The township is also exploring possibilities for remote programming via television, the internet and telephone,” the announcement said.

Toni’s Kitchen will be providing assistance to seniors, and families whose children rely on free and reduced-price meals at school.

Toni’s Kitchen will provide groceries to 80  seniors identified as at-risk by the Senior Services Department in Montclair. The Kiwanis Club of Montclair will be coordinating driving for the weekly service until senior programming is back to its regular schedule, according to a Toni’s Kitchen announcement sent out on Friday, March 13.

Toni’s Kitchen Officials are urging residents to keep an eye out for their neighbors, especially neighbors who are in a vulnerable situation. “Please look out for your neighbors. Some families that were stable last week might be in need next week. We are here to help. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.”

On social media, members of the community encouraged each other to reach out to senior citizens they knew, whether they were friends, neighbors or relatives, and offer to do grocery shopping or run errands for them.

Abraham Dickerson said he was arranging to deliver groceries to some of his neighbors, and to check in on them.

Among them is Adeleri Onisegun. Onisegun, a psychologist who teaches at Bloomfield College, said she made the decision to practice social distancing due to the outbreak: a decision made easier by the college being on spring break. She decided to have groceries and other items delivered to her home rather than going to the store. She had tried having deliveries through apps, and wasn’t pleased with the results, so she was pleased when Dickerson offered to pick up groceries for her.

It is important, said Onisegun, people not become mentally isolated. She said she keeps in touch with her daughter and grandchildren by phone regularly, and with members of her sorority.

In a situation such as the outbreak, Onisegun said, “It really calls for thinking about life,” and it is a reminder of how valuable relationships are between people.

Toni’s Kitchen will also be providing bags of groceries each week to families whose children rely on free and reduced-price lunch. This will be in addition to the school district’s food service vendors providing lunches for pickup for eligible families.

The closing of schools had led to concerns over families who depend on free or reduced school meals.

Toni’s Kitchen is in need of donations of shelf-stable food, including oatmeal, peanut butter and pasta. The kitchen has also requested financial donations, since it will be purchasing large amounts of cleaning supplies.

Volunteers are also needed to drive deliveries around town, and to do short food preparation shifts at the kitchen.

People who are interested in donating food or money, or who would like to volunteer, may reach out through the kitchen’s website or through toniskitchen@gmail.com.

The COVID-19 outbreak has far-reaching effects for Montclair’s senior citizens.

People over the age of 60 are deemed to be particularly susceptible to COVID-19 and the novel coronavirus. All three of Montclair’s identified cases, as of March 13, are over the age of 60, ranging in age from 60 to 77.

The Human Needs Food Pantry already offers food deliveries at about 230 food deliveries each week.

The Human Needs Food Pantry is now limiting visitors to small groups, and anyone who is exhibiting flu-like symptoms is asked to stay away, and send someone else to make deliveries or to pick up items. The pantry has also requested that children not enter the pantry building on Label Street, both to protect clients and to protect children as well. Staff will continue to use surgical gloves when handling food, and hand sanitizers are stationed throughout the building. The building is also being cleaned and sanitized on a regular basis. The pantry has also temporarily instituted a no-handshake policy: “Though we love to express our gratitude for your support, the practices of handshakes will be temporarily suspended,” Executive Director Mike Bruno said in a message to the community. “We will also try to take the donations from you outside of our building to minimize the number of people entering.”