Mad River Valley program looks out for local seniors

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WAITSFIELD, Vt. (WCAX) It's never been more important for us to look out for our seniors, but in a rural state where many live alone and state orders require us to keep our distance, it can be hard to know how to help. One group in Waitsfield has figured it out.

Spring has arrived in the Mad River Valley, but the ski areas are closed and the shops shuttered -- life has slowed down. Ditto at the Mad River Senior Center in Waitsfield, where the tables are empty but the kitchen is cook'in. "Today I made shepherd's pie," said Claudia, the head cook.

Every weekday they send out up to 35 meals to seniors. Nancy Emory runs the local Meals on Wheels program. "It's very unusual times. I mean, normally this whole room is filled with seniors, Emory said.

With seniors staying put in their homes. Emory along with others have started something new. "So what we are doing, besides doing Meals on Wheels -- the board has divided up all the board members and they each call about 10 people," Emory said.

It's called Operation Sunshine -- a way to check up on the regulars with a friendly 'Hi.'

"It's important to know what they are doing and how they are doing and to give them a little bit of spirit," Emory said.

Cal it a senior social-isolation pick-me-up. It's not just a Mad River Valley problem, it's a concern throughout the state, which has the second oldest population in the nation.

"Some 58,000 Vermonters over the age of 65 live alone -- which is largely a rural state. This is an issue we are concerned about in non-coronavirus times," Greg Marchidon with AARP Vermont, an advocacy group for seniors. He says the current health crisis adds complexity to an already complex problem. "There's a number of things that can be done about it and we're really encouraging our members and their families, just simply reach out."

Back at the center, Meals on Wheels volunteers like Anne Greshin start to trickle in. "People are feeling more isolated, other people aren't coming out so often, so I definitely think it's an important function," Greshin said.

Huguette Abbott has been getting a meal for years. "Bye bye, be careful and be well," Abbot said.

A meal and moment of conversation is what's on the menu for these seniors to get them through stressful times.

AARP has new a program called Community Connections to help people reach out to seniors during the coronavirus crisis.