The Importance of Volunteering: A Closer Look at our Senior Support Services During COVID-19

The Importance of Volunteering

A Closer Look at our Senior Support Services During COVID-19

Throughout this pandemic, our community services volunteers have been there to assist the most vulnerable in our community when they have needed it the most. From grocery shopping, to driving them to their doctors’ appointments, to tidying around the house—small tasks of daily living we all often take for granted—changed drastically for many people when COVID-19 became a reality.

We sat down to talk with Kristen Grasso, our Senior Services Volunteer Coordinator, to hear more about how these various community services have evolved since the pandemic, the ongoing importance of these services, and how you can help.

Kristen, thank you for taking the time to talk with us! Describe our transportation and errand volunteers and the services they provide to our clients through the Good Neighbor Program.

The Good Neighbor Program supports older adults in our community who have limited resources to maintain these daily tasks. We support seniors who aren’t driving anymore and don’t have friends or family who can help them out. We also have some clients that still have their license but are on medications that prohibits them from driving. Some of our clients are recovering from procedures and need some assistance with light chores around the house.

Before COVID-19, we were assisting clients with trips to their medical appointments as well as shopping and errands; from prescription pick-ups, groceries, safety tasks and general around the house chores such as vacuuming, and light yard work. Those were all the ways in which our volunteers were ready and capable to support our clients.

How has this service evolved since COVID-19?

Since COVID-19, transportation has become an issue. We’ve had a lot of people who are worried about being around older adults who are the most at-risk for complications to COVID-19. They are afraid of getting them sick. Staff has really stepped up and taken on most of the transportation for clients. Recently, we were approved for a grant from Cal Trans that will allow us to hire two part-time drivers: one will cover San Luis Obispo and South County and the other with cover North County and the Coast. We’re very excited for this additional support!

When COVID-19 hit, we immediately started seeing a lot more requests for assistance with grocery shopping, but older adults love to go grocery shopping themselves! It’s been hard for them to let go of that routine and allow others to do it for them. When a volunteer is running errands or grocery shopping for a client, they call them first to get the list of what they need. The volunteers can then call the clients when they’re shopping if they have questions, if they’re unsure about any of the items, because they want to make sure they get the right thing. It’s much different than being there in-person and looking at their options, so our volunteers do the best they can to make it a positive experience for the client.

Tell us about our friendly visits volunteers and the services they provide to our clients through the Caring Callers program.

Our Caring Callers Program aims to support isolated older adults; even if they are living with family, but the family are busy, out of the house, or working full-time. We match our friendly visitor volunteers and clients based on interests—I take into account their needs, hobbies, and personalities and I match them accordingly. Once the client and volunteer are matched, they have weekly visits whether it be on the phone or a porch visit. Volunteers log their visits into our database for staff to track volunteer hours.

How has this service evolved since COVID-19?

After COVID-19 started, we had a lot of people reach out wanting to volunteer and get in contact with the isolated older adults. Since March, we’ve on-boarded 10 new volunteers per month, just for phone call visits alone, which has been great. Unfortunately, the downside is that most older adults don’t like to talk on the phone, they would rather have someone come visit them in person for the face-to-face interaction. We have a large waitlist of clients waiting for when face-to-face visits are possible again, as well as a waitlist of volunteers that only want to do phone call visitors who are waiting to be matched with a client. We currently have about 70 clients that are receiving phone call visits, which has been great. We also have some clients and volunteers that have matched for years that have asked if it would be alright if they still met in person, and for them I advise social distancing, mask-wearing, porch or outside visit if possible are preferred. People are lonely, they miss each other, and they want to see each other. I’ve had volunteers that have moved out of the area that still stay in contact with their client, which is very sweet.

Before COVID-19, all our friendly visits were done face-to-face. We’re waiting and looking forward to being able to go back to in-persons visits again at some point. We are checking in on a monthly visit with our waitlisted clients to see how they’re doing and if they’ve changed their mind and would like a phone call visitor. We currently have 32 people who are waiting to be matched with in-person volunteer visitors. We do plan to keep the phone call visits even after the pandemic for the clients and volunteers who would rather visit this way.

Describe the Riso Family Loan Closet and it has evolved since COVID-19?

The Loan Closet is a free community resource that loans donated, lightly used medical equipment to anyone who needs it. Appropriate medical equipment helps patients get better faster while being safe in their healing process. Basic medical devices such as crutches, canes, walkers, wheelchairs, and bathroom safety equipment are commonly used for brief periods of time after an injury, surgery or similar circumstance and can be more expensive than families can afford. Appropriate medical equipment helps patients get better faster while being safe in their healing process. Our Loan Closet makes this equipment available to borrow when it is needed. We always welcome donations. It’s how we to continue to build a supply of available devices for community members who need them.

There has been a lot of people calling the loan closet needing equipment, but unfortunately, we just haven’t been able to loan anything out or take any donations since March due to COVID-19. It’s hurt people financially because they’ve had to purchase equipment that they can’t really afford to. The Riso Family Loan Closet has finally re-opened as of November 1st for the first time since March! We are very excited to be able to start offering this resource to the community once again.

What makes you hopeful about where we are now and where we are going?
I miss seeing my co-workers, but I’ve learned to adapt and founds ways of saving lots and lots of paper. All of my applications are been translated into fillable PDFs, which makes all the volunteer processing so much easier. I do miss volunteer orientation trainings because that helps me to get to know the volunteers and they get to know me better. That’s one of my favorite things.

If you are interested in getting involved with our services, visit our website or contact Kristen Grasso at (805) 547-7025 ext. 2214. The Riso Family Loan Closet is open, by appointment only. If you would like to borrow equipment or donate, please call (805) 547-7025 X 2217.