Bright sunshine cast deep shadows in the Friendship Center courtyard in Montecito as a dozen or so staff members and Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade representatives gathered.
COVID-19 was on their minds.
Wearing masks and gloves, they walked into a room full of tall piles of canned food, bags of rice, pistachios, orange juice, beans, bananas and other fruit from the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.
Heidi Holly, the Friendship Center executive director, and Abe Powell, the Bucket Brigade executive director, led a discussion about how to keep everyone at least six feet apart as they worked to provide food security for the adult daycare center’s 375 members and their 700-plus family caregivers. They were assembling bags of food, treats, toiletries, puzzles, games and more that the brigade would deliver to homes.
COVID-19 is why the Friendship Center, which helps aging adults and provides a respite for their family caregivers, closed the doors March 16 for programs at its Montecito and Goleta sites.
And COVID-19 is what brought people to the Montecito site Thursday morning to demonstrate that caring for the center’s members extends beyond those closed doors.
“They have not been forgotten,” Friendship Center registered nurse Lynn Whitaker told the News-Press.
“People are thinking about them,” said Ms. Whitaker, who baked oatmeal raisin cookies for special bags of treats, toiletries and entertainment items. “They’re not alone. The community’s here for them.”
Easy Lift is part of the effort. It brought supplies from the Foodbank to the Montecito site to help the center’s members.
“Our demographic is individuals who are high-risk with health conditions. A lot of our members have cognitive decline,” Heidi Holly, the Friendship Center executive director, told the News-Press in the courtyard as staff and Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade representatives assembled the bags.
“We had a visioning session with our team members on how we could repurpose and become more relevant and essential to our community,” Ms. Holly said.
That led to conversations with the Foodbank, Easy Lift and the Bucket Brigade. Abe Powell, the brigade’s executive director and co-founder, brought his team to the Friendship Center.
“They (the Friendship Center) called us and said they needed volunteers to help get food to seniors who normally have meal care (at the center),” Mr. Powell told the News-Press. Like Ms. Holly and others, he was wearing a mask and gloves.
He said the brigade is also assisting other nonprofits in delivering food to people.
“One in four people in Santa Barbara County are food insecure,” Mr. Powell said. “That’s over 100,000 people.
“Now that the pandemic has happened, there are people who are not working,” he said, noting that will mean more food insecurity.
In addition to providing nutritious food, the Friendship Center wanted to meet the entertainment needs of members and their family caregivers now stuck at home.
“In conversing with many of the caregivers as well as our members over the last week, many of them are going a little stir crazy,” Kim Larsen, the center’s family services manager, told the News-Press.
Behind her in the courtyard, people were assembling bags of treats, games, jigsaw puzzles and crossword puzzles, and decks of cards. In her gloved hands, Ms. Larsen held lists of activities that the center was sending to the caregivers.
“We have different types of brain-stimulating activities,” Ms. Larsen said. “Some of our members can do Sudoku puzzles,” she said. “I have a list of prime facts regarding American history. We have some funny jokes.”
The care bags also include shampoos, containers of bath and body wash, granola bars, hand sanitizers and little footballs that double as stress balls for squeezing. Ms. Holly said donations came from nonprofits such as Street Medicine.
Ms. Holly said the center has stayed in touch with caregivers during virtual support groups through Zoom video conferencing. She noted caregivers are grateful for the Friendship Center staying in touch with them.
“We want to take care of our members and caregivers in the community.”
For more information, go to friendshipcentersb.org.