Wilton Supports its Seniors Through Navigating COVID-19, Encourages People in Need to Reach Out

The COVID-19 pandemic poses an unprecedented risk to the entire community, yet nonetheless, Wilton has continually stepped up to support one of the most vulnerable groups:  seniors.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, adults age 65 years and older make up four out of every five reported deaths from COVID-19 in the United States. Given their higher risk, seniors have been advised to stay home and avoid contact with others. That warning brings other concerns into light:  their ability to secure food and medication prescriptions, pay medical bills, and fill the need for connection.

But though Wilton Senior Center is closed, Wilton Social Services director Sarah Heath said the program is doing the best it can to provide all resources remotely.

“Essentially part of my job is to make sure everybody in town has whatever they need,” Heath explained. “Whether it’s me providing it directly through our social services department, or connecting them with the resources [at the] state or federal level that would give them what they need to live healthy and safely, especially in our current environment.”

Heath said the priority right now is to make sure seniors and anyone with need have access to food, by stocking the Wilton Food Pantry. The Food Pantry is currently located at the side entrance of Comstock, though to maintain anonymity all donations are currently being collected at the Wilton Police Department in a temporary shed out front.

The pantry is being run off of “essentially an honor system” Heath said, and she encourages any senior or resident in need to take part in it. “That’s what it’s there for,” she said.

Heath added that the response from the community with food pantry donations has been “amazing.” However, beyond donations, Heath said one of the most effective ways to help out is for residents to take the initiative to reach out to seniors they know and offer assistance.

“If people are out there helping their neighbors and family and friends, that’s really the best way to have an effect on people going through a hard time,” Heath said.

For seniors who do feel comfortable shopping, Wilton grocery stores–including Stop & Shop, Caraluzzi’s Market in Georgetown and the Village Market–have instituted  senior-only shopping hours.

Tim Dolnier, owner of the Village Market, said they made the decision to have senior-only hours bi-weekly after careful consideration of the community’s needs, and in an effort to make the safest choice possible. On Monday, he went a step further and announced phone ordering and curbside pick-up for people aged 70 and older. For any request he cannot meet Dolnier directs seniors to Wilton Social Services.

“I’m sure we can find resources between us in the town and charitable organizations to make sure nobody’s left out high and dry,” he said, adding that Village Market will continue to review and make changes as new needs present themselves.

Individual Efforts

Beyond how the town and local businesses have responded to seniors’ needs, individuals have responded in unprecedented ways. Dolnier said he’s seen individuals shopping for their elderly neighbors on their local grocery runs, while Heath said the Wilton Police Station, where food pantry donations are being collected, are receiving amazon packages of canned goods.

“People are really stepping up… people in Wilton really want to help,” Heath said.

WHS juniors (L-R) Piper Chase, Maggie Rowe and Maddie Pfeiffer have started Warrior Helping Hands to shop and run errands–safely–for senior citizens and anyone else who needs it now.

Wilton High School junior Piper Chase joined them in this effort. Inspired to help her community, Chase took to Facebook last Thursday morning to offer grocery and supply delivery to anyone in need–free of charge.

“No one really knows what to expect or how long [this pandemic is] going to last,” Chase said. “So, I guess it’s important that we stick together as a community and look out for each other.”

Chase runs the program, dubbed “Warrior Helping Hands,” with fellow students Maddie Pfieffer, Maggie Rowe and Libby Connolly. They encourage anyone in need, or anyone who knows of anyone in need, to not hesitate to reach out to them via email, or to other town organizations.

She added that she and her team are making sure to take protective sanitary measures, such as wearing gloves, to minimize contact.

Connection is Vital

Beyond food, keeping connection with the community remains a vital concern for Wilton seniors. Sally Maraventano Kirmser is president of Stay at Home in Wilton, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering community among seniors. She said that maintaining a sense of community despite the necessity of distancing is essential to getting through this.

“Our biggest goal is to make everybody feel connected so they feel comfortable reaching out,” Kirmser said, adding, “Nobody has to feel alone.”

Stay at Home in Wilton has worked to make sure the needs of its 125 members are being met during this pandemic, by posting resources on the organization’s website, calling members to check in, and delivering food. Though the organization has cancelled its March events and its volunteer driving program in an effort to protect seniors from exposure, Kirmser said that, despite these constraints on seniors, she has not heard any resistance to these measures.

“Seniors have been through a lot in their lives, and I think they’re disciplined and I think they know that if you have to do something so that the situation will improve, they’re going to play by the rules,” Kirmser said. “And I haven’t had anybody who’s against any of the precautions that we’ve taken.”

Kirmser said she has deferred to Wilton Social Services for any need the organization can’t meet, but encourages members to reach out with concerns.

Similarly, Wilton’s faith organizations have gotten creative to keep seniors, as well as all community members, connected. Rector Marissa Rohrbach of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church said that she thinks “the biggest concern” among seniors is wanting to stay connected despite physical distancing.

“For our seniors, in particular the ones who live alone, to see familiar faces and have interesting conversations and still feel like you’re connected and part of a community makes a really big difference,” Rohrbach said.

To combat this, St. Matthews has used the Zoom platform to hold services on Sunday as well as throughout the week, and an informal “coffee hour” Monday mornings, all of which can be a “landing place” for seniors who may feel isolated in this time. Additionally, Rohrbach said a pastoral care team, the vestry and herself are reaching out to senior parishioners directly about their needs and addressing them directly.

“We’re having a lot of internal conversations about how we can take care of and support the life of the whole community around us, which is a really hopeful thing in a time when I think we’re being forced to sort of step away from each other,” Rohrbach said.

Pastor Shannon White of Wilton Presbyterian Church similarly said that isolation is “paramount” to address. One way the WPC community has addressed this is by videotaping services on YouTube and offering Facetime luncheons or tea. White said she has heard from many seniors who haven’t been able to attend services even before the pandemic because of health issues or distance, who watched the service and welcomed the videos.

Through their faith and action funds, WPC has helped address the needs of senior parishioners directly, in addition to praying for “each person by name.”

Accepting Help

Despite all the actions her congregation and others have taken already, White encourages more people in need to reach out.

“This is really not a time to let shame stand in the way. It’s a time to really be honest and just let people in your circle of care [help],” White said.

White welcomes all seniors to find connection and support in any way they can, whether through a faith organization, loved ones or anything else.

“Keep perspective in the middle of this, that this is not going to last forever,” White said. “This is only for a time and it’s a really difficult time. But we’re all going to get through this and pulling on each other and our common hope will help tremendously.”