Guest Columnist

Horizons: The pandemic through the eyes of an older Iowan

The Gazette asked Eastern Iowa nonprofit leaders to write about the changing needs of our community in 2020

Frozen meals are gathered together before being delivered to clients by Meals on Wheels drivers at Horizons: A Family Se
Frozen meals are gathered together before being delivered to clients by Meals on Wheels drivers at Horizons: A Family Service Alliance in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Friday, March 13, 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

I’m an older adult. I’m writing this on a Monday. I know because my cell phone says so. It’s actually pretty much like any other day. I’m going into my third week of complete isolation. I did a five-week hitch in March when COVID-19 started. Complete isolation is when I don’t leave my property and have a family member deliver groceries to my deck. I did have limited outings this summer to the local grocery store or hardware store but I always felt terrified when I returned home in fear I might have contracted the virus.

I’m a social person and this social isolation is hard. I thrive off of being around people. I enjoy going to meetings in person, networking, and I like to continue to learn. I’ve been working from home because I have a job. I work for Horizons, A Family Service Alliance. I love what I do! I work with local, state and federal legislators and help raise funds for our important programs. I guess I’m lucky, I see my co-workers on Zoom meetings and a variety of other community meetings. The older adults we serve through our Meals on Wheels program are not so fortunate.

I am going to tell you about older adults that suffer from isolation not just during the COVID-19 pandemic but day after day. They are the people that our Meals on Wheels program serves. For many, the only person they will talk to each day is the volunteer who delivers their meal and does a wellness check.

Think of that - the rest of the day they are alone! The average age of our Meals on Wheels clients is 74 years old and they live alone. Their income averages $1,400 per month and 17 percent are veterans. The service Meals on Wheels provides keeps this vulnerable population from going to a nursing home or ending up in the hospital, which can cost as much as $1,558 per day. It’s not surprising the National Institute on Aging research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for physical and mental issues such as high blood pressure, obesity, anxiety, depression, and cognitive decline.

Since COVID-19 became a threat to our community, Horizons’ staff has stepped up the effort to make sure our older adults are not forgotten. Since March, we have delivered over 165,000 prepared meals to over 900 people in Linn County. In addition, we talk to our clients twice per week by phone to reduce the feeling of isolation. At that time, we ask if they are in need of additional food items, personal care items, and cleaning supplies.

For older adults who are homebound and isolated, the holidays can be anything but a joyful time of year. This year with COVID-19 in our communities, even fewer will be spending time with their families. The holidays might be the only time an older adult actually spends with their loved ones. Now, out of safety concerns, that opportunity is gone.

Meals on Wheels is launching a Joy Drive to make the holiday season brighter. We will deliver food and joy by providing a special Thanksgiving meal, as well as a special Christmas meal in December. There will also be a joy package delivered to each Meals on Wheels recipient. The joy package will include a personalized card, books, puzzles and other items to bring joy and help reduce the isolation and loneliness. The meals and gift bag will be delivered by our dedicated volunteers.

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We are inviting the community to be a part of the Joy Drive by bringing donations to any Cedar Rapids Bank & Trust (CRBT) location drive-through. You can see a list of needed items at www.horizonsfamily.org. Financial donations are also welcomed at any CRBT drive- through. For contact-free donations, items can be directly shipped from our Amazon Affiliates page on our website, to 819 5th Street SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52401.

As you make your New Year’s resolutions, consider signing up to volunteer at Horizons. Our Meals on Wheels program would not be the same without our friendly, caring volunteers. There are always other opportunities to volunteer so check out our volunteer website volunteer@horizonsfamily.org

Kay Fisk is vice president of advocacy and donor relations at Horizons, A Family Service Alliance.

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