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Agencies adapt in response to pandemic's challenges

By Fran Gonzalez | May 28, 2020

Belfast — Two Waldo County programs have adapted their missions to new challenges brought on by the global pandemic, reallocating resources to meet the needs of the moment.

Aging Well in Waldo County and Waldo Community Action Partners' public transportation department are working independently to aid county residents living in seclusion in a variety of ways.

In a conversation with The Republican Journal May 7, Aging Well board member Marje Stickler said many of the agency's volunteers were at home feeling anxious and wanting to help in some way. One of the tenets of the group, she said, is to identify people suffering from social isolation and to offer help.

Aging Well had previously developed a two-page resource directory with links to important social services, including health and safety agencies, WCAP and its suite of services, food cupboards, and pharmacies and stores that were currently offering curbside pickup or delivery services. There were also emergency numbers, hospitals, legal services, pet food stores and veterans’ services.

“We had all this information compiled and wondered how to get this out,” Stickler said. “We decided to reach out and call people.”

Wendy Kasten, who chairs the board of Aging Well, and County Commissioner and board Treasurer Betty Johnson were able to identify all residents 80 and older in the county, Stickler said. With 40 volunteers, the group made 1,400 calls encompassing every town in Waldo County, asking people how they were doing and offering resources to suit every need.

Volunteers wrote 60 postcards to individuals they could not reach by telephone. “We offered our phone numbers,” she said, “in case people wanted a follow-up phone call. Several people said it would be nice to have a phone call now and then.”

Twenty masks made by Reentry Center residents were delivered; one woman who was out of fuel and wrapped in blankets against the cold in her mobile home was referred to 211 fuel assistance.

“She was still cold, and a volunteer mailed her a blanket so she would be warm,” Stickler said. “It turns out, her back door was not closing properly, so we organized volunteers to help her with maintenance at her house.”

The phone calls yielded several stories of people helping people and neighbors checking on neighbors, Stickler said.

“I called one woman who was checking in with two people who said she was going to Ralph’s Diner every week to buy and deliver a cheeseburger to one older gentleman,” she said, “to make sure he was OK.”

Kasten said they also made a referral for emergency dentistry, another to Meals on Wheels, and followed up on a referral to WCAP for housing assistance and repair.

There was also a referral to Window Dressers for insulating inserts; someone needed help with a Netflix subscription; and another person wanted to find classical music on TV, Stickler said. Volunteers came to the rescue in each case.

There is a range of activity levels among 80-year-olds in the county, Stickler said. Some are still working, some are out for an 8 a.m. walk, some receive aid from Spectrum Generations, some are driving, and many are homebound.

Stickler said she personally called 25 or 30 people in Brooks. “I think they were very surprised we were calling. They were also pleased," she said.

“People were very neighborly. If they had a neighbor who didn’t have a phone or was older, they were checking on them,” she said. “The Town Office had also been checking in with them about food and deliveries.”

One 90-year-old man Stickler called wondered about a blue car in his driveway. “I asked if he had any family and he said no.”  He walked to the Post Office and then to the Town Office trying to figure out the riddle. It turned out to be Spectrum Generations coming to help him.

“I think we were all thinking of something we could do to help,” Stickler said. “We are all home and have more time. I am grateful I can do something. Even sitting at home you can still help. It seems to fill a niche.”

Aging Well meets monthly, Stickler said. “Social isolation is a big part of what we address, and the current situation falls into that. It’s something we can do.”

For more information, visit agingwellinwaldocounty.org.

WCAP transportation program

Rob Powers is the volunteer coordinator at Waldo Community Action Partners and also heads up its transportation department. In a conversation with The Journal May 15, he said the program was recently restructured to accommodate transporting food as well as people.

“We’ve partnered with Good Shepherd Food Bank,” he said, transporting food to area soup kitchens and delivering boxes of food for the Head Start program.

Normally, Powers said, WCAP provides rides for people with MaineCare going to doctor's appointments, dialysis and cancer treatments, or visits to counselors. Operating in Waldo, Knox, Sagadahoc and Lincoln counties, the program now serves 35 food pantries within the four counties.

With the current pandemic, Powers said, normal driver hours are down, as many doctors' offices are closed or open only on a limited basis. “With less people on the buses,” he said, “we’ve decided to reallocate our resources to help in other places.”

Powers said WCAP still provides transportation for appointments and that, “if you have a doctor appointment, we’ll make sure you get there.”

The staff, Powers said, is “amazing,” answering any questions riders may have, and he encouraged anyone wanting a ride to call 930-7900. There are different public transportation options depending on where you live, and fares range from $1.50 to $8 each way. People who are unable to afford the rates and are income-eligible may opt to complete an application certification process for a fee waiver.

According to the WCAP website, also available is the Downtown Area Shuttle in Belfast and Rockland, which anyone can use. The buses make a continuous loop Monday through Friday. Passengers pay a $2 one-way fare and can be dropped off and picked up anywhere along the route, and $5 day passes are also available, as well as 12-trip punch cards for $20 and monthly passes for $50.

Elderly customers who cannot use the regularly scheduled bus route system can pay 44 cents per mile for trips to medical appointments. Any transportation provided for Department of Health and Human Services-certified eligible clients is free through a Fee Waiver Program.

“I was a driver for two years before doing this,” Powers said. “I’d go home every night knowing I had made a difference.”

For some elderly people living in isolation, this is their human contact, he said. “They love to talk.” Some younger folk, Powers said, would confide in him when he drove. He remembers one person crying because they had not seen their children because of a mandate from DHHS.

“There is a lot of sadness that we see,” he said.

The program is always looking for volunteer drivers, Powers said, and volunteers receive a stipend of 40 cents a mile. Anyone who is interested should call 322-5027. For more information, visit waldocap.org.

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