Senior center reopens, while the new online virtual center continues to thriveJun 01, 2021 11:33AM ● By Carl Fauver
After being closed more than a year, inside meals are finally being served again in the Taylorsville Senior Center cafeteria. (Taylorsville Senior Center)
By Carl Fauver | [email protected]
For more than 13 months, Taylorsville Senior Center officials (4743 South Plymouth View Drive, about 1600 West) could not allow patrons inside their facility, thanks to the houseguest that just…won’t…leave – coronavirus. But don’t think for a minute, while the doors were locked, nothing was going on.
“We made about 150,000 wellness calls to our seniors, launched a virtual (on-line) senior center, handed out drive through meals and deep cleaned our centers,” said Salt Lake County Aging & Adult Services Communication Manager Afton January. “Staff inside our centers were busy every day. And now we are so glad to have people coming back in again.”
Salt Lake County operates 16 senior centers, including the one in Taylorsville. The city owns and maintains the building, while the county operates it. Taylorsville Senior Center Manager Lisa Butterfield has been in her position since January 2019. So, she had a little over a year with seniors coming in (January 2019 to March 2020), followed by a little more than a year with them locked out.
“It was tough; we missed the activity in the center,” Butterfield said. “We served our last meal in our cafeteria, pre-COVID, on March 13, 2020. We had no idea at that time, we would not serve our next inside lunch until April 19, 2021. I was so excited to see our seniors return.”
The Taylorsville Senior Center is still operating under several restrictions, to help ensure patron safety. Pre-pandemic, it was common to serve lunch to 60 or more seniors. Now, due to social distancing requirements, they are limited to serving 35.
“In the first week serving lunches again, we only had about 20 seniors each day,” Butterfield added. “If we get up to more than 35 wanting to come, we’ll create 2 different lunch times.”
The meals for all 16 Salt Lake County senior centers are prepared at the main county government center, on State Street and 2100 South. That’s also where the drive through meals are prepared. The transition – from serving in cafeterias to handing bagged lunches through car doors – was seamless.
“The very next day, after we shut down our center to indoor dining, we were handing out meals to people who drove through,” Butterfield explained. “It was only a week later when the earthquake hit (March 18, 2020). We handed out lunches that day too, even as inspectors were in our building looking for structural damage (finding nothing significant).”
Even though inside meals have now resumed, the Taylorsville Senior Center is continuing to also hand out drive through lunches, to patrons still uncomfortable going inside to dine with others.
“When we reopened, we set up a social hour from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., with lunch served from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.,” Butterfield said. “The other thing we re-established that first week back (April 19 to 23) was bingo, at 2 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. That was my number one request of what our seniors wanted back as soon as possible. We purchased new bingo cards that can easily be sprayed and sanitized.”
About five months into the pandemic – last August, as everyone was getting accustomed to Zoom meetings and online communities – Salt Lake County Aging & Adult Services launched it’s “Virtual Senior Center.” At the Taylorsville center, Program Coordinator Lara Kandolin is the point person.
“We had been talking about creating an online senior center before the pandemic; so, the lockdown just pushed us into doing it more quickly,” Kandolin said. “At our (Taylorsville) center, we have two yoga classes, one advanced and one ‘gentle.’ I send email reminders to our participants ahead of time. Then during the classes, I do all the tech work, making sure everyone is connected properly. I also can see our participants to make sure they aren’t having any physical problems.”
Two other Salt Lake County senior centers are also originating yoga classes. Others are offering instructions for doing craft projects – some pre-videotaped, available online anytime, and others live.
“It’s been helping our seniors to have something to do at home and not go crazy,” Butterfield said. “We started handing out craft supplies to about 20 people (in the same drive through line as the lunches); but it quickly grew to about 50 craft kits. We even delivered some to seniors in their homes. It was pretty amazing – it got off the ground so rapidly.”
The various craft kits include supplies for sewing, making greeting cards, crochet projects and other things.
“The virtual senior center has been hugely successful,” Kandolin added. “I have heard from other program coordinators and seniors. The reaction has all been overwhelmingly positive. I’m glad we’re going to continue it, even as more and more people are able to return to our in-house activities.”
Taylorsville Senior Center patrons are also returning to a spruced-up facility.
“While we were shutdown, Taylorsville City had crews in the center painting rooms and touching up paint throughout the building,” Butterfield added. “They also hired a professional team to come in and recover our two pool tables. And we did a very deep cleaning. We cleaned out all of the closets. That’s where we found some of the materials for our craft kits.”
Hundreds of seniors also received their two coronavirus vaccination shots inside the Taylorsville center.
“We did four different COVID-19 vaccination clinics in January through March,” Butterfield explained. “Each clinic had about 300 people – so about 600 total people received both their shots here.”
Taylorsville Mayor Kristie Overson and City Council Chairman Curt Cochran are both thrilled to see life returning to the senior center.
“Our citizens who go there regularly need it so much; this is so exciting,” Overson said. “We have all been waiting and waiting for the senior center to be able to reopen. I am thrilled they are able to get together again.”
“It’s another sign the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter,” Cochran added. “Now that the majority of adults have been vaccinated, people are feeling safe again. I am happy the senior community has a place to go. I’ve been in contact with my senior constituents (during the pandemic) and they are starting to tell me, overall, they are feeling safer.”
As the Taylorsville Senior Center reopens, the biggest change patrons will have to get used to is the new requirement they phone in ahead of time to preregister for lunches and other activities.
“We have to keep careful track of the numbers of people coming in, so we are now requiring preregistrations,” Butterfield concluded. “We have to know ahead of time how many are coming for lunch, to play bingo or anything else.”
The number to call to preregister for any activities inside the Taylorsville Senior Center is 385-468-3370. You can also see more about what is being offered, at slco.org/taylorsville-senior-center.