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Manhattan Beach Community Rallies to Help Older Adults During COVID-19

Jun 23, 2020 10:56AM ● By Jeanne Fratello
Manhattan Beach is known for its extensive services and programming for older adults. But when the COVID-19 shutdown began, volunteers rose above and beyond to create an extensive safety net for this vulnerable population. 

Manhattan Beach's Older Adults program (a division of the Parks and Recreation department) sprang into action immediately by expanding their Dial-A-Ride hotline into an all-purpose Older Adults Hotline.

Then organizers joined forces with volunteers from the Manhattan Beach Rotary Club and Manhattan Beach CERT to create a reliable network of trained helpers who could assist local seniors with anything from grocery delivery to pharmacy pickups.

The hotline has since received nearly 600 calls, and the volunteers who have answered those calls have developed close relationships with the community members they assist.

"It’s just been incredible," said Jan Buike, the recreation manager who oversees the older adults program for the city of Manhattan Beach. "You’ve got a city council that supports you, a parks and rec director that says ‘go for it,’ and a good communications system. I always think if you’re going to grow old, Manhattan Beach is a great place to do it."


A Hotline is Established


The COVID-19 shutdown brought hardships for many families. But for senior citizens - many of whom are at higher risk for the virus - the stay-at-home restrictions created additional difficulties. Many worried about how to get groceries and medications, how they could get to the doctor, or even how they could keep in touch with others once their regular gathering opportunities were put on hold. 

Within days, the city staffed up the Dial-A-Ride number (310-802-5010) as an Older Adults Hotline where seniors and others in need could find assistance with meals, transportation, medication, groceries, or other essential items.

The callers requesting help have included chemo patients, 'super seniors' who are in their 90s, people with possible dementia, people who are caretakers for ill or aging relatives, and those who have injured themselves and cannot leave the house.

The city then partnered with the Manhattan Beach Rotary and Manhattan Beach CERT to secure trained volunteers.

When a call comes in, the dispatcher assesses the caller's needs and then contacts one of the two groups to secure a volunteer.

The volunteer then contacts the person in need, gets all of the details of the request, and makes the necessary arrangements (such as leaving money in the mailbox at a pre-determined time for a grocery run).

"There is no contact, so it is all safe, but there is a personal connection," said Buike.

Buike added that in many cases the senior citizen knows "their" volunteer, so they just call the volunteer for help rather than going through the hotline. "A relationship has been formed," she added. 

'Grade-A Volunteers'


Vesta Sung, the medical coordinator for Manhattan Beach CERT, said that she has a core group of about eight volunteers. She noted that there have been as many as 22 "runners" at once, but the group averages about 18 volunteers at any given time. Some additional volunteers who are over 65 or are otherwise not able to do outside errands also help with "side projects," she said. 

"We have some pretty grade-A volunteers in this city," she noted.

Susan Adams, who manages the volunteer team from the Rotary Club, said that her team has 10 to 15 volunteers, many of whom have developed close personal relationships with the seniors. "One of my volunteers will just go ahead and call the seniors herself before she goes to the store just to see if they need anything," she said.

In addition to grocery runs - sometimes as many as three runs per week for a household - the volunteers have also rounded up Mother's Day and Easter flowers as well as hand-written notes and cards from local charity groups.

The volunteers have also begun delivering masks handmade by National Charity League volunteers.

Other community partners have helped as well, Sung said. Ralph's has been "amazing," allowing CERT volunteers to do their shopping during senior hours, she said, and Walgreens offered to set aside specific items for the seniors when the items came in.

Program To Continue As Needed

Buike said that the program would keep going as long as necessary during the pandemic. "We're going to keep it going until things settle," she said, adding that although many seniors have started venturing out again, there are some who will still stay quarantined at home. 

Regardless, the seniors have made some vital connections that will undoubtedly last longer than the pandemic.

"[The seniors] will say, 'I might not need you all the time, but it’s nice to know I have a village behind me," said Sung. "We even have people who say, 'Would you mind just calling me? I'd like to talk to you."

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