Key Peninsula Community Services senior center and food bank suspended all group activity in their programming March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Mustard Seed Project did the same March 9. Both organizations are designed to provide support to help independent seniors live well on the Key Peninsula.

The first concerns for both KPCS Executive Director Willow Eaton and TMSP Executive Director Eric Blegen were that people were going to feel isolated, or even abandoned.

“When people become isolated, all sorts of things could happen to their health and mental well-being,” Eaton said. Some of the most popular programs at KPCS are the exercise classes. Eaton emphasized the importance of people seeing and continuing that bond with their own instructor. 

KPCS is successfully streaming tai chi and exercise classes with their regular instructors on YouTube, and will provide recorded DVDs as needed, to keep seniors active and in shape. 

TMSP is exploring those options for the exercise and yoga classes they offer, Blegen said, as well as other options to remain connected online to support physical and emotional wellness too. 

“We immediately set up phone trees for those we serve and are calling regularly to check in and offer assistance as needed,” Blegen said. “We’re still answering the office phones as we normally do; however some staff are working remotely.”

KPCS ordinarily serves nutritious senior lunches on Wednesday and Friday afternoons, and Eaton said she is determined to keep that going. Mustard Seed volunteer drivers were already bringing people from further north to KPCS in Home to enjoy lunch well before the crisis began.

The modified senior lunch program continues, available for pickup on a drive-through basis, with one-day advance notice by calling the KPCS office. 

Thanks to partnering with TMSP, Eaton said safe door-to-door delivery is being provided by Mustard Seed for seniors unable to pick up drive-through lunches. 

In addition to isolation, Eaton expressed concern for people who might have existing mental health challenges. “If they are OCD or have an anxiety disorder, this can be a trigger,” she said. “What steps can we take to help there? 

“And then, we have people who might go hungry.” 

Many of the regular food bank volunteers are seniors themselves. 

“The food bank will remain open but due to space restrictions, we’ve downsized the number of food bank volunteers to two people at one time,” said KPCS Administrative Assistant Keyong Bertsch. “We want to keep our more vulnerable senior food bank volunteers safe at home during this time. 

“It was a hard decision to make at first, but there wasn’t much choice,” she said.

Bertsch said the “bread closet” is closed. Instead, the bread has been moved outside to give people inside enough space to place their order while observing social distancing measures. 

Only one person will enter through the door of the former bread closet at a time, place their order and go back outside to wait. The full basket will be delivered to them to carry to their own vehicle. 

“We’re disinfecting. We use hand sanitizer. We’re taking all precautions to keep it safe every time,” Bertsch said.

Food bank operations will continue during regularly scheduled hours (10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; open until 5 p.m. Wednesday. Closed for lunch). Monetary donations are always welcome; food donations cannot be accepted at this time. 

Blegen said TMSP will use their Pierce County transit bus to make meal deliveries and is trying to spread the word about the senior lunch program to their people too. “Anybody 60 and older is eligible for the lunch program.” 

In addition, TMSP is working on a program to safely deliver groceries and supplies to shut-in seniors. 

“Things are moving quickly but we remain confident we’ll get through this together,” Blegen said.

Longtime KPCS volunteer Kathleen Best, who contributes her time and creative energy making festive decorations, boxed up her craft supplies as she prepared to leave the KPCS March 12 for six weeks or more. She said leaving the place felt very strange. 

“I haven’t had the flu in 20 years,” Best said. “Instead I get things like brain farts and other noncontagious things, so I’m not personally too worried. I’m 77 years old. I’ve lived a long life so far, but I think I would need two lifetimes to finish up what I’ve started at home.” 

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