Senior citizens — and others — have friends in Wilton
WILTON — While everyone faces challenges while ever-increasing regulations are put in place to stem the spread of COVID-19, senior citizens are in the most perilous position.
Not only are they most susceptible to dangerous complications from the illness caused by the coronavirus — the vast majority of deaths are among the elderly — they are often the most ill-equipped to deal with the social distancing that is in place.
Those 65 and older make up about 15 percent of Wilton’s population, numbering about 3,000 individuals.
But they are not forgotten as Wilton Social Services Director Sarah Health and Stay at Home in Wilton president Sally Kirmser can attest.
Heath said Monday that “many, many” people had stepped forward to offer to help and with the assistance of Wilton resident and real estate broker Peg Koellmer volunteers are being coordinated to reach out to seniors.
“We are hoping to get people better connected,” Heath said. “We know there are seniors out there who need help, and even if they are able to get out and about, they shouldn’t.”
Health said there are 83 high-need vulnerable seniors who live independently and she and her staff have reach out to each one at least twice over the last two or three weeks.
“The seniors’ biggest concern, initially, was how are they going to get to where they need to go. Now, no one is supposed to go anywhere,” she said. “Now we are trying to make sure they have everything they need. We have to find new solutions to the new problems that arise.”
Stay at Home in Wilton has 125 members and many of them depend on the organization to help them get around, but that is no longer possible.
“We suspended our volunteer drivers taking people to doctors and the markets,” Kirmser said last week. Many of those volunteer drivers are seniors themselves.
“For people in Wilton Commons and Ogden House, there is a sense of community there and a sense someone will check up on them,” she said.
“For people in their own homes, we haven’t heard of anyone in distress. … It’s a whole different ballgame if you are at home by yourself.”
The organization has volunteers who are making regular calls to members, dropping off food and helping out in other ways.
“A lot of the things we do shadow Social Services,” she said.
“It’s such a bummer we don’t have our senior center,” Heath said. “You don’t realize how important that is for socialization. Those little connections are so important for so may people … we don’t want people to fall into a depression with a loss of connection weighing heavily on them.”
Beyond the personal connections are the institutional connections that have been so important in these times.
The Wilton Community Assistance Fund is supported by private donations and goes 100 percent to residents in need.
“We have been able to access that when needed,” Heath said.
The fund also pays for gift cards to food stores and some have been donated by Koellmer and Village Market. Delivering them can be a bit unusual. Heath related how she drove to meet someone, got out of the car, placed the card on the ground and got back in her car so the recipient could go and pick it up. Her husband, Sgt. Anthony Cocco, has also been dropping off envelopes to residents who can’t get out.
The food pantry is probably the most visible symbol of assistance with a shed as a drop-off point at police headquarters at 240 Danbury Road.
“I have been going to pick up items in the shed and take them to the tents Parks and Recreation Director Steve Pierce put up for a makeshift food pantry,” Heath said. The pantry had been operating outdoors at Comstock Community Center. Cocco has also been bringing donations over.
Heath said she’s been able to make purchases for the pantry with funds raised through Wilton Rocks for Food and donations.
The food pantry is not just for seniors, it is for any of the 100 or so households that are eligible to use it. Those residents, she said, are sometimes out of work or earn a lower income. “Some only have Social Security as income, so it’s really hard even if you have a relatively affordable housing option to make ends meet,” she said.
As the economic effects of COVID-19 have taken hold, she’s been getting a few new households a week seeking to use the pantry or seeking other assistance.
“People are out of work or unable to work and their income is gone. Bills still need to get paid,” she said. “It’s been difficult. Those households that are my established clients are able to reach out to me and I’m able to help them problem solve.
“I just spoke to someone asking what bills can be deferred. It’s a really stressful time for people. Being able to provide them a basic necessity of food is a weight off their shoulders.”
Heath said she’s heard from many people willing to make a donation, write a check or help a vulnerable person in town. “It’s so uplifting and it really is what Wilton is all about. It’s a great thing, but a challenge to figure out. I get a handful of emails a day from people wanting to help. I do see a lot of good going on.”
Heath can be reached at email@example.com.