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Senior Living: Local churches work to reach out to seniors during pandemic

The pandemic has caused many challenges for senior citizens. Because the older population is more vulnerable to COVID-19, many seniors have not been able to go out as much as they used to. For many homebound and residents of assisted living facilities, the pandemic has prevented them from receiving visitors.

This has also impacted churches, many of which have outreach programs for seniors. Many churches also relied on senior citizens who were able to volunteer their time for church functions.

Youth at Bethlehem Church joined other churches in creating and sending cards to area nursing homes. Photo provided

But since the pandemic has no sign of going anywhere anytime soon, local churches have been working to make sure that senior citizens know they are not forgotten.

“It’s been hard watching the most vulnerable folks in our community become so isolated,” said Mike Olmsted, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Austin. “Members who have parents in (assisted living facilities) have shared how difficult it’s been on them. It’s been really hard to reach out to the people that you want to make sure are connected.”

Before COVID-19, Olmsted said he would do regular worship services in rotation with other pastors at assisted living facilities. Westminster also had a group of deacons that would visit the homebound and people in care facilities. Since the pandemic hit, Olmsted has implemented online Sunday worship services and a daily devotional known as “Take a Knee at Noon,” all of which seniors can participate in.

Olmsted said the church’s senior outreach has been focusing on one-on-one contact through emails, phone calls and letters. Church members have also taken advantage of the opportunities to see people if at all possible.

Olmsted also said he has had access to the elderly for end of life situations.

Despite all of this, Olmsted wants to do more.

“We haven’t had an organized approach at big things because it’s been difficult to get approval for them,” he said. “We’ve worked hard at it, but I don’t think we’ve met the need the way it needs to be met. It’s one of the challenging things about this virus.”

For Dan Mueller, community outreach coordinator at Bethlehem Church in Austin, the pandemic has ramped up focus on senior citizens, prompting creative ways to fight their isolation.

“In the beginning, we did a campaign with the youth and families in making cards,” he said. “Several other churches helped out. We sent them out to a majority of the nursing homes in town.”

Mueller said that Bethlehem Church has been working closely with the Mower County Senior Center to help with meal preparation and delivery for seniors. Other outreach efforts have involved free services, such as yard maintenance, and helping with personal things.

In his interactions, Mueller has seen the effects isolation has taken on some senior citizens.

“There are some people that haven’t got out and haven’t really done anything and have almost lost how to communicate with other people and are really struggling personally,” he said. “There are those that see people caring for them and this really warms their hearts because they see all of the bad things happening and they start to feel hopeless about what the world is turning into. Seeing young people and seeing churches caring for them and taking over that role that they were very good at really warms their hearts and gives them hope that the world does care and the world isn’t as bad off as sometimes they see in the news or other places.”

Both Olmsted and Mueller agree that the church communities have responded to the call to reach out and show they care for senior citizens.

“It’s been challenging, but I’ve been proud of a lot of our folks; they’re caring for their neighbors literally and reaching out to people who have been struggling,” Olmsted said.

“(The pandemic has) put a focus on that group that often were the doers and the givers and now the community is giving back to them,” Mueller said. “The need is all around us and the church and community are doing amazing things.”