Washtenaw County organizations are launching Care on Wheels service during the pandemic.

YPSILANTI, Mich. – Two local organizations have joined forces to help seniors cope with increasing isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels delivers home meals to senior citizens three days a week. During the pandemic, the organization’s staff and volunteers observed a general downturn in their customers’ daily lives.

“I noticed during the (health) assessment that the customers were having real difficulties with small household tasks,” said Megan Berry, clinical social worker at Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels. “I’ve found that a lot of people don’t know how to ask for support.”

Berry said that while support programs and services exist, many people are unaware of them.

“I remember a lady mentioning that having her laundry downstairs was a hindrance,” Berry said. “She told me the rhythm she figured out. She has to empty the laundry from the dryer into a garbage bag and then drag the bag up the stairs while holding on to the railing. None of that sounds safe.”

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After hearing about household issues from numerous customers, Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels decided to start a program with Seniors Helping Seniors, a non-medical service where seniors act as caregivers to other seniors and provide peer-to-peer support at home Afford.

Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels applied for a grant from the United Way of Washtenaw County in Spring 2021 and was awarded $7,500 for the Care on Wheels pilot program. Grant funding has also helped equip some seniors with cleaning supplies and light vacuums.

The program currently offers its clients three hours a month of housekeeping and social support.

Many of the seniors that Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels serves cannot afford private care, so even a few sessions a month can go a long way, Berry said.

“We are very pleased to be part of this process,” said the owner of Seniors Helping Seniors, Carmo Ribeiro. “So far I’ve heard a lot of good feedback from the community of people we help.”

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Ribeiro said his staff is either close to retirement or retired but still active. They work part-time and help clean and organize their home and sometimes help take clients to hair salons or other places they need to go.

“Generally, we have people in their mid-70s and late 70s who are still doing a great job helping people in their 90s,” Ribeiro said. “We have a 102-year-old woman that we are helping. And our supervisor is in her late 70s. They are doing very well. The customer recently had a birthday and she received a lot of cards. One of the activities was for the caregiver to read her the cards out loud.”

Berry said Care on Wheels has helped 13 local seniors and provided 154 hours of care since August. Meals on Wheels is now seeking additional grants to expand the program and reach more community members in need.

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“The need is there,” she says. “It seems we have some interested partners in the community and the model for improving community care is only going from strength to strength.”

Consistent home care reduces hospitalizations and nursing home stays, she said.

Although the pandemic has caused many Ribeiro employees to stop working for fear of contracting the virus, “heroes” have emerged among them to help seniors who are homebound and have no one at all. This, he said, has a major impact on customers.

“We’ve found that in general, the communication, the interaction — people are starting to appreciate the time they can spend with others a little more,” Ribeiro said. “They no longer take things for granted. We’re seeing a little bit more mutual respect and attention to really try to live in the present.”

For more information on Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels, visit www.ymow.org.

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For more information about seniors helping seniors, visit www.seniorshelpingseniors.com.

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