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JOY Centers adapt to meet seniors’ needs

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Lisa Dunlap Photo Judy Huddleston and Mike Lawrence of the Chaves County JOY Center in Roswell distribute “grab and go” meals Wednesday.

Chaves County JOY Centers’ staff are finding their daily duties different now, but they continue to provide meals, transportation and, perhaps more importantly, a listening ear to senior citizens in the area.

With COVID-19 restrictions still in place, the four Chaves County JOY Centers in Roswell, Midway, Hagerman and Lake Arthur cannot open their doors to senior activities, events, gatherings, congregate meals or adult daycare. They also can’t provide housekeeping services at this time.

But Executive Director Monica Duran said that they are still doing what they can to meet seniors’ needs. That includes providing transportation for essential needs, delivering home meals and food and supply boxes, and providing “grab and go” pick-up meals. They also are spending some time each day to call clients they haven’t seen in awhile to say hello and see if they need anything.

“I think that some of the seniors may be getting a little gloomy,” Duran said. “They are asking us, when are we going to get to come back? A lot of them are bored, not being able to be here and see their friends.”

She said that the situation is also exacerbated for the homebound, because traditionally JOY Center workers who delivered meals took a few minutes to chat and check on their clients. Now deliverers have been instructed to limit contact and drop meals just inside the doors or meet clients outside.

With no word yet when the centers might reopen, the 41 employees currently on duty are busy cleaning facilities and taking delivery of new pool tables and lift recliners that had been ordered before the March “stay-at-home” public orders took effect.

“The seniors will be coming back to really nice things, some nice furniture,” Duran said. “Every single facility received replacements of their pool tables. We also received a grant from Leprino (Food Co.) to replace all the dining room furniture. So they are coming back to, well, it’s basically a facelift.”

While transportation and errand-running have been in demand, the greatest need has been for food, which the JOY Centers have been meeting in several ways.

As a new response during the coronavirus emergency, the New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department and Roadrunner Food Bank provided in April and May more than 900 boxes of food filled with about 20 pounds of beans, rice, pasta and canned and other non-perishable items that were distributed to seniors, as a first priority, but also others in need throughout the county. Individual donors also provided money and personal hygiene items, which allowed JOY Center to prepare another 150 boxes of personal and household items for distribution. Another food distribution is expected to occur in June.

One of the staples of the JOY Centers has been home-delivered meals and on-site meals. Because they are not able to offer congregate meals anymore, people with a need have a choice between having their food delivered or arranging to pick up a “grab and go” meal from the centers. Weekend meals are also available for those with demonstrated need.

The demand has definitely gone up, Duran said. The centers used to supply 9,500 to 10,000 meals a month. Now they are supplying about 11,500 meals a month.

“Every day we are getting at least five to 10 (additional) requests per day,” she said. “I think some people are afraid to come out and others have the underlying conditions that are causing them not to come out. And, of course, we have quite a few seniors who can’t drive, so they can’t do the grab-and-go. And we have the homebound, who have always been on our list.”

She said the organization received $12,812 in state emergency funding and $33,413 from the federal Families First Coronavirus Relief Act to help meet the increased needs for meals.

She said the JOY Centers sometimes receive calls asking for assistance from people who are not seniors, and they work with other community agencies to meet those needs.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.