Every year, the City of Scottsdale’s Adopt a Senior holiday program assists, on average, more than 200 Scottsdale seniors in need.
This year, thanks to the public’s help, the city far exceeded that number – 320 adopted seniors – and expects adding around 15 more from the waiting list.
“We do have a waiting list right now but we are anticipating having more at the end of the program,” said Anya Wright, human services representative.
From October through December, Adopt a Senior serves low-income, home-bound, isolated seniors, who receive two gift bags.
The first gift bag arrives around Thanksgiving and includes all of the ingredients for a full Thanksgiving meal and a $35 Fry’s gift card.
“That way they can, if they wanted to, go out and buy a turkey for themselves and any additional items,” Wright said.
Mayor Jim Lane’s Youth Council assisted the Senior Services by packing more than 200 bags of non-perishable food items for the program.
“This program is a valuable asset to the community, and the students were happy to help a group of individuals in need for the holidays,” Scottsdale Human Services wrote on Facebook.
The second bag arrives the two weeks leading up to Christmas and that one is a bit more customized.
It includes three to five items purchased by donors from the senior’s holiday wish list as well as a $35 gift card, a book of forever stamps and hygiene products.
And this holiday season, supporting Scottsdale’s seniors has been given special emphasis by the city.
“Our seniors have struggled greatly during this pandemic,” said Human Services Supervisor Jennifer Murphy, citing struggles with loneliness and getting food.
The city developed a new program for emergency food delivery. It also delivered paper goods, like toilet paper and paper towels, and provided transportation when needed.
“We’re mostly going to them versus them coming to us,” Murphy said. “They’re just afraid, and I understand that; they’re at a higher risk. Food still continues to be a high-demand item – getting food and proper nutrition.”
Loneliness, in part, came as a result of the closure of Scottsdale’s two senior centers, Via Linda Senior Center and Granite Reef Senior Center.
“Our two senior centers that we have in Scottsdale are like second homes to many of our seniors. ... And since the pandemic, at some point our doors were closed. We still are meeting with clients by appointment only, but our doors aren’t open like before,” Murphy said. “The loneliness has been very difficult.”
According to the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging in June, 56 percent of adults between 50 and 80 years old reported feeling isolated from others, compared to 27 percent in 2018.
“As the pandemic continues, it will be critical to pay attention to how well we as a society support the social and emotional needs of older adults,” said John Piette, a professor who worked with the poll team. “As we gather new evidence, all of us can take time to reach out to older neighbors, friends and relatives in safe ways as they try to avoid the coronavirus.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, the city’s social services team reached out to all their homebound seniors.
And since, social workers have connected daily with them, calling, delivering meals and even hosting virtual classes and activities, like full-body stretches and cardio workouts.
Seniors in need of food this holiday season can enroll in the city’s Holiday Meal Pick Up.
As part of the activity, eligible and enrolled seniors pick up a free holiday meal, including rosemary garlic beef and roasted potatoes, from Via Linda Senior Center on Dec. 18.
The Granite Reef Senior Center is full.
“We’re doing a lot of things to try to connect,” Murphy said. “I think connection has been super important.”
“And we always knew the senior centers were important, but this year, we really realized the importance of what we do. And we want to make sure our seniors weather this storm the best way they can,” Murphy continued.
This past month, Murphy has seen Scottsdale residents increasingly support seniors, too.
“The city of Scottsdale has a very beautiful, generous spirit,” she said. “Every year, they come through to really take care of our seniors, and it is heartwarming, especially amidst this pandemic this year, that our community has, once again, come together to support our senior community. It is a beautiful thing.”
The city still needs monetary donations to cover the $35 grocery store gift cards, as well as help cover the cost of rent, mortgage and utilities for those in need.
“Any type of financial assistance towards helping seniors that are struggling with rent and utilities is super helpful,” Murphy said.
They also need any food donations, which can be dropped off at Vista del Camino Community Center.
“If we have a senior in need of a food box, we will get a food box from Vista and deliver it to them,” Murphy explained.
What the city is not in need of, however, are volunteers.
“We normally have a wonderful group of volunteers that help us, but because of the pandemic, we haven’t been able to utilize all of our volunteers. So, that’s been very difficult,” Murphy said.
Despite the challenges, both Wright and Murphy are more than appreciative of residents who’ve helped support the Adopt a Senior program.
“I think this year is especially important, as we all need each other. That’s what has been highlighted most for my staff is the fact that we need them as much as they need to us,” Murphy said.
Those interested in donating money, can visit scottsdaleaz.gov/seniors/adopt-a-senior.