EASTHAM — The directors of the Outer Cape’s four councils on aging all say their senior centers have been open for the past 15 months — it’s only the doors that have been shut.
All the directors say they modified their offerings to support seniors stuck at home during the pandemic. In Eastham, staff and volunteers delivered over 2,000 bags of groceries and 7,000 meals, according to COA Director Dorothy Burritt. Wellfleet offered once-a-week delivery of lunches to homebound seniors, said Director of Community Services Suzanne Grout Thomas. Provincetown’s director said they “did not miss a beat” with their food programs.
“While the building was closed, we were open,” said Truro COA Director Mary-Elizabeth Briscoe. There, volunteers helped seniors schedule vaccination appointments from afar. They enlisted the services of a podiatrist. Exercise classes made the transition to Zoom.
The social dimension of the senior center experience, all four directors admitted, has been difficult to replicate.
Before the pandemic, Wellfleet’s senior center was busy, “to the point where you couldn’t answer the phone,” said Grout Thomas. When Covid emptied the buildings, the phone became the center’s primary mode of interaction.
“We were a human being on the other end of the phone,” said Grout Thomas. “That’s the role we played.” All four centers, the directors said, began making regular check-in calls.
Zoom got mixed reviews from the directors.
From Briscoe’s point of view, virtual activities could not make up for real social withdrawal. She said the evidence of cognitive loss, depression, and other changes she’s seen in seniors over the past year “is rather staggering.”
But Provincetown COA Director Chris Hottle said that, while the pandemic threw their normal operations into disarray, Zoom allowed staff to reach many new seniors. “Those stereotypes about technology and older adults? Not true,” she said.
Hottle found ways to combine virtual and real events. In December, Hottle said, volunteers helped convert the David Asher Holiday Dinner, a marquee social event on the senior center calendar, to a grab-and-go affair. “A parade of cars” lined up outside the Lobster Pot, which provided pickup meals, she said. When diners got home, volunteers had pre-taped entertainment waiting for them on PTV. Even now that her center is open, Hottle still considers that event one of the biggest wins of the past year: “It was the best day.”
Hottle said Provincetown will continue to offer some form of virtual programming. Truro and Eastham have plans to continue virtual programming, as well.
The Outer Cape’s senior centers are now reopening their buildings, but the process is happening more quickly in some towns than others. Though Provincetown opened its doors on June 1, Truro and Wellfleet are aiming for the beginning and middle of July, respectively, and directors from both towns said they had not yet finalized opening dates.
Eastham held a reopening celebration on Friday, June 25, and, judging by the number of people who came — over 100 — seniors there are ready to see their friends. Many spoke of the importance of shared spaces. Dick and Jane Ramon of North Eastham are COA regulars. Dick is on the council’s board and attended meetings remotely for the past year-plus. Prior to the pandemic, he volunteered as a greeter in the senior center and at the COA thrift shop.
Digging into ice cream with her neighbors Ursel and Larry Pasco, Jane said, “It was a major loss not to have this.”