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Outreach continues after senior center closes

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Delfina Vargas never missed a Friday at St. Martin de Porres Senior Center in Alexandria, when an extraordinary minister of holy Communion brought the Eucharist. In good weather, the 80-year-old Alexandria resident walked from her condo, where she lives with her husband and daughter, to the senior center to socialize, play games, join exercise classes and pray. When the pandemic suspended the program and halted her daily walk to the center, the staff managed to bring a little piece of the center to her — in the form of personalized activity kits. 

Board games, puzzles, recipes, reading material, a personal gift and candy were all part of the package the staff dropped off, said her daughter, Natalia. The Catholic Charities program also delivers toiletries and clothing, depending on individual needs. 

But the special deliveries provide more than just supplies and a little bit of fun. 

Chong Brandenstein nearly cried when staff dropped off an activity kit at her home. Brandenstein, 90, lives alone and hadn’t seen anyone since the center closed. She has no family close by, and has only limited contact with them through phone calls. She said in a phone interview it was hard to explain just how difficult and lonely it’s been.

Before St. Martin closed March 18, staff sent clients home with six to nine meals’ worth of shelf-stable food. The center, which provides activities, breakfast and lunch, has closed in the past for emergencies such as hurricanes. But how long the pandemic will last is uncertain, so staff doesn’t know when they’ll be able to reopen the doors.  

Though the center has been closed for more than a month now, the staff of three continues to reach out to 70 seniors by phone, since many don’t have email. They ask if the seniors need anything, and the staff fields phone calls, mostly from families with seniors seeking advice or information. They have distributed 40 cotton masks, provided instruction on making no-sew masks, and dropped off 30 activity kits. 

“They are so happy to see us,” said Anne Coyne, director of senior services. “When we deliver the kits, they usually meet us at the door or (we) drop off on the porch.” 

But the smiles, and sometimes tears, go both ways.

“There are so many (seniors) who will bring a smile to your face,” said Coyne, who added most are grateful and “tickled” to receive the support.

Once the crisis is over, Brandenstein is looking forward to being with people again, and Vargas  can’t wait to resume her walk to the center and its community. 

Bartlett can be reached at Meghan.bartlett@catholicherald.com. 


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020