The annual Senior Expo of Santa Barbara, the area’s largest active aging fair for seniors and caregivers, returned to Earl Warren Showgrounds on Wednesday to offer a one-stop shop for information on the county’s products and services to stay healthy and active.
Now in its 31st year, the expo was attended by close to 1,000 seniors who were eager to learn about all the business and organizations working with seniors in Santa Barbara, as well as receive free health screenings and flu shots.
The expo was presented by the Family Services Agency, a 120-year-old human service nonprofit that works to improve the health and well-being of Santa Barbara’s most vulnerable. The event was sponsored by over twenty businesses and organizations, including major healthcare groups like Cottage Health, Sansum Clinic, and VNA Health.
Attendees packed the main exhibit hall where 116 groups had set up booths offering information on just about any senior service you could think of.
“Whatever people need, it’s represented here,” said FSA Executive Director Lisa Brabo.
Healthcare providers, banks, funeral homes, city departments, and community organizations were among those represented. Seniors and caregivers learned about in-home care services, such as house cleaning, yard work and handiman services, and signed up for transportation services and support groups. The expo also had a Caregiver Cafe, a place for caregivers to receive support about all the challenges of providing assistance to seniors.
About 100 different booths held raffles throughout the day. The free treats and prizes are a highlight of the expo, said Ms. Brabo.
“There are pens, there are stress balls, anything you can think of. They’re just kind of fun things for people to collect so that they have the resources right there at their fingertips. You know, the pen says this is the organization and this is the phone number,” Ms. Brabo told the News-Press.
Elizabeth Wagner and Julia Miranda both visited the expo and agreed that Santa Barbara has done a great job of building up services to meet the needs of the city’s aged population. With so many services now available, the biggest issue for the senior community remains affordable housing, said Ms. Miranda. The expo was a great opportunity to find out what kind of housing options the county offers.
“There’s a lot of options for people to live and that’s what’s nice: we were finding places that we’ve never seen before, that we’ve never known about. And services that you didn’t know about before either. A lot of people just never have any idea that these things are out there,” said Ms. Miranda.
The Senior Expo is largely about facilitating communication between seniors and professionals, and when you walked through the exhibit hall, you knew it worked. The hall echoed with a 100 conversations.
“We don’t stop talking from the moment we get here. We bring waters, we’re all pumped up with coffee, because we get such a big crowd,” said Liliana Encinas, Santa Barbara Fire Department’s bilingual Public Outreach Coordinator.
Ms. Encinas visited the expo for the sixth time with volunteers to educate seniors on disaster preparedness. Ms. Encinas and crew talked to seniors about shopping for supplies and having a disaster kit, and handed out bilingual information like a 9 step preparedness curriculum specific to seniors. Each year, they try to educate visitors on the main issue that locals have dealt with that season.
“Right now it’s the public safety power shutoff, so we brought a lot of information and try to educate the public on what to do with these shutoffs and why Edison and PG&E are doing this. We bring the information that is concerning to the community that year,” said Ms. Encinas.
A major attraction at the Expo is the health screenings and flu shots offered by 10 healthcare organizations in Warren Hall. Seniors got their hearing, balance and eyesight checked, received a bone density screening, tested for glaucoma and diabetes, and much more.
“The whole idea of the senior expo is to combine a lot of services and make them available to people. Services that would not otherwise be readily accessible or available to them,” said Sansum Director of Nursing Michael Yee.
The flu shots have been sponsored jointly by Sansum Clinic and Cottage Health for 21 years. Each year they distribute hundreds of dollars worth of shots free. This year the shots were provided by Cottage Health.
“Today we kind of had a big rush. We had 250 during the first half hour, and we reached about 500 at 10:30. Now we’re reaching our maximum limit of about 750 by the end of the clinic, which is at noon,” said Mr. Yee.
The healthcare community can see the positive impact from the expo each year, Ms. Brabo said.
“I think the function that this serves is like a preventative service. Someone learns about something here that they need and they can access it, that means it’s going to be one less trip to the emergency room or one less emergency out there,” she said.
Now with multiple Senior Expos under her belt, Ms. Wagner said the event is a wonderful time.
“It was nice to see people who are in the biz to help me with what I need. It’s just a great thing. I wish it was twice a year, but it’s a lot of effort to put it together.”