Ocean County Press Release
TOMS RIVER – As nutrition sites and a host of services that help seniors navigate daily routines began to close down as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Ocean County Office of Senior Services stepped up their assistance to a vulnerable population and their caregivers that continued to need help during COVID 19.

Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari, chairman of the Ocean County Office of Senior Services, with Maria LaFace, Director of Senior Services recently presented an outline of the help provided by the county's Senior Services staff to keep older adults healthy and safe during a challenging time.

"We substantially increased our home delivered meals during this time which provided not just a daily meal to a senior but also daily contact by someone who could make sure the senior is doing well," Vicari said. "Sometimes that contact is just as if not more valuable than the meal itself."

From April 1 to Aug. 31, about 150,000 home delivered meals or emergency shelf stable meals were provided to seniors in Ocean County, an increase of almost 40,000 from the same period in 2019.

"We saw a 30 percent increase in meals delivered and a 50 percent increase in new clients from 2019," Vicari noted. "Our home delivered meal providers also collected and delivered toilet paper, home cleaning products, and other items that couldn't easily be found at grocery stores through a partnership with car dealerships in Toms River and Stafford Township.

"I want to extend my deepest appreciation to Lester Glenn car dealership, Causeway car dealership, all those individuals and organizations that donated and to Community Services Inc., our major home delivered meals provider for lending a hand and going above and beyond to help our seniors," Vicari said.

Ocean County is home to more than 173,000 senior citizens. Seniors that are 85 and older continue to increase in numbers.

"So many of our seniors want to continue to live independently and this pandemic tested our services that help them remain in their homes," Vicari said. "We were able, through our community of support programs, to help keep some of our most vulnerable residents out of nursing homes.

"We also helped many caregivers as we all began to learn to navigate changes to daily routines during a pandemic," he said.

"In 2020 so far, we provided 786 units of caregiver support compared to 361 units in 2019," LaFace said. "Our provider network completed 1,460 units of service in 2020 compared to 688 in 2019."

"There is no coronavirus pandemic playbook so our caregivers needed support to navigate how to help seniors and do it safely," Vicari said. "Our caregivers are dedicated to helping our seniors so that they can continue to enjoy their independence as they age. These men and women are an integral part in keeping our seniors healthy and safe."

The increase in caregiver calls also resulted in increased requests for the Jersey Assistance for Community Caregiving (JACC) program which is a state program that provides a broad array of in-home services to eligible seniors.

Vicari said the outpouring of help and the partnerships created during the pandemic has given needed assistance to many of the needy and frail seniors in Ocean County.

He highlighted the Jersey Cares Inc. program that with the Office of Senior Services was able to provide 500 grocery shopping trips for the homebound and isolated seniors.

"The Office of Senior Services processed over 200 of these calls," Vicari said. "We couldn't provide this kind of help without the network of agencies collaborating their efforts toward the common goal of helping seniors."

Vicari said just as importantly, senior services staff and providers conducted 17,000 telephone reassurance calls to seniors.

"When our seniors began to feel anxious or isolated, they had the ability to talk to someone, who provided an understanding voice on the other end of the phone, a person to listen, calm and comfort," Vicari said. "Sometimes you just need someone to help set your mind at rest and that is what we strived to do."

In addition, senior services staff handled 2,000 COVID 19 related calls.

"The key to helping our seniors is to be there for them and especially when they need it most," Vicari said. "That has always been the goal of the Office of Senior Services and now more than ever we have done all we can and more to let our elderly residents know we are there to help them."

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